Sunday, May 31, 2009

Seductive Search should be called Gold Diggers

Seductive Search keeps popping up as a display ad when I check my Yahoo e-mail these days.
The ads feature sexy young ladies with the caption, “Young women looking for older men.”
Seriously? These online dating services will do practically anything to get people to sign up. They’re even targeting married men like me.
Generally young women looking for older men are gold diggers or have daddy issues. Either way I can’t see men being attracted to a service with women like that. But hey, I’m not the target audience.
SeductiveSearch.com is owned by Neverblue Media of Victoria, British Columbia. Neverblue describes itself as a “global lead generation network that delivers millions of profitable customers to clients from all over the world.”
In a corporate video, Neverblue CEO Hakan Lindskog says, “Every month we deliver over a million qualified leads to our advertising clients.”
By any means necessary, based on the Seductive Search ads.
Neverblue is a subsidiary of Vertrue Inc., an Internet direct marketing services company.
Seductive Search is really just an advertising and marketing campaign that funnels “leads” or potential customers to Mate1.com. Mate1 lists a lot of dating services on its Web site – for Asians, Blacks, Christians, Jews, seniors – but “young women looking for older men” isn’t one of them.
Mate1.com is based in Montreal, Quebec.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

YouTube popular, but wildly unprofitable

Why is it that photo-sharing sites can charge users for unlimited storage, but Google’s YouTube allows people to store unlimited amounts of video on its site for free?
That can’t be a sustainable business model.
I like free services on the Web as much as the next guy, but ultimately they’re businesses not charities.
Consider YouTube. Search king Google bought the popular video-sharing site in 2006 for $1.65 billion, but hasn’t figured out a way to profit from it. In fact, YouTube is losing money by the truckload.
YouTube reported May 20 on its blog that users are uploading 20 hours of video a minute to the service. To accommodate that, Google has an enormous bill for bandwidth and data storage.
Market research firm eMarketer posted a report last month that compiled estimates of how much revenue YouTube generates and how much the service costs to operate. Analysts estimate that YouTube could bring in advertising revenue of $120 million to $500 million in 2009. But the cost of running the site could reach over $700 million this year.
It’s no wonder that Time on May 14 listed YouTube as one of “The 10 Biggest Tech Failures of the Last Decade.” Others on the list included Microsoft’s Windows Vista, Gateway, HD DVD, Vonage, Sirius XM, Microsoft Zune, Palm, Iridium and Segway.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Twitter parasites thriving while host struggles

Services that take advantage of the open infrastructure of microblogging site Twitter seem to be doing pretty well. Meanwhile Twitter itself is struggling to find a workable business model.
This situation reminds me of nature videos where parasites thrive around a larger species. Think fish that clean the scales, skin and teeth of larger marine animals. Or better yet, birds that pick the bugs off giraffes, hippos and other creatures. (OK, so those are really examples of mutualism or symbiosis. Sorry.)
But what if the host is starving? That’s the case with Twitter, which isn’t generating any revenue now and is having a hard time explaining how it will in the future.
My colleague Brian Deagon just wrote a package of stories for Investor’s Business Daily about the companies making money off Twitter’s back. See “Twitter Truly Making Money – For Some Application Developers,” which posted Thursday on Investors.com.
Those Twitter parasites (my term) include FeaturedUsers.com, StockTwits.com and View2Gether.
Meanwhile, Twitter’s co-founders, speaking at a tech conference in California this week, “gave no clear picture of Twitter’s business model” after an hour of questions by journalists and the audience. See AP story here.
MarketWatch columnist Therese Poletti noted that Twitter’s “‘build it and they will come’ mentality can be a recipe for a disaster, as evidenced by the many failures in the dot-com boom and bust of 2000-2001.”
She cited another Twitter parasite making money off the service. Content network Glam Media recently launched Tinker.com, a quick way to find the hottest topics on Twitter. Glam Media is selling ads related to widely discussed topics on Twitter.
And finally, in another “jump the shark” moment for Twitter, the San Francisco-based startup has teamed with Reveille Productions and Brillstein Entertainment Partners to develop an unscripted series based on the site, the AP reported.
I wonder if Ashton Kutcher will get his Twitter movie done first.

Photo of giraffe up close and cleaner birds from Noam Berg on Picasa.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Consumer Electronics Show 2009 attendance worst since post-9/11 show

Organizers of the Consumer Electronics Show reported the official, audit-verified attendance for the 2009 CES on Thursday and the results weren’t pretty.
Attendance was 113,085, down 20% from a year earlier because of the global recession, for the Jan. 8-11 show in Las Vegas. That’s the smallest attendance for the annual show since 2002, when 99,961 attended after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Despite the smaller attendance, CES is still the world’s largest annual tradeshow for consumer technology and the largest tradeshow of any kind in the U.S.
The number of exhibitors at the show dipped 10% to 2,700. The exhibit space was 8% smaller at 1.7 million net square feet.
One area where the CES grew was in media attendance. The show’s organizer, the Consumer Electronics Association, says “more than 4,500” journalists were at the 2009 show. That’s up from the “4,000 plus” reported for the 2008 show.
The 2010 International CES is scheduled for Jan. 7-10 in Las Vegas.
In previous years, CES had to compete for media attention with Macworld in San Francisco. Not so in 2010.
Faced with putting on its first Macworld without Apple’s participation, show organizer IDG delayed the tradeshow a month to Feb. 9-13. (It was originally scheduled for Jan. 4-8, overlapping with CES.)
Looking to put the hurt on Macworld, CES is planning a new pavilion devoted to Apple products at the 2010 show.
Announced shortly after this year’s show, the iLounge Pavilion was originally floored with 4,000 net square feet of exhibit space. When that sold out quickly, organizers increased the space to 18,000 square feet within a couple of weeks.
Just last week, the CEA announced that the iLounge Pavilion was expanding to 25,000 square feet. The iLounge Pavilion will feature accessories and applications for Apple’s iPod, iPhone and Macintosh computers.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Correcting disinformation on Twitter; this time about Netflix

A colleague of mine in IBD’s Silicon Valley office noted yesterday on Twitter that the large Netflix distribution center in Sunnyvale, Calif., had closed. But he got part of the story wrong.
He accurately reported that Netflix had relocated the regional distribution center to a cheaper location in Fremont, Calif. But the other operation at the Sunnyvale facility – the national processing center for all of Netflix’s new DVDs – was moved to Grove City, Ohio, not Iowa as he wrote.
This error isn’t on the scale of Patrick Swayze’s premature death notice, but Netflix fans might want to know.
Netflix spokesman Steve Swasey told me last week that Netflix moved out of Sunnyvale in a cost-savings move.
The new national operations center near Columbus also will be able to serve more of Netflix’s regional distribution centers faster than the West Coast location could. Netflix has 58 regional distribution centers nationwide to send DVDs to subscribers, usually overnight.
See story in the Columbus Dispatch.
Good news for movie fans who subscribe to Netflix’s DVD-by-mail service.

Photo of Netflix’s Sunnyvale distribution center, taken in June 2006, by Hacking Netflix.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Son of a beach, Dr. Beach overlooks my beach


"Dr. Beach" Stephen P. Leatherman recently came out with his 2009 list of the top beaches in the U.S. He ranked Hanalei Bay on the island of Kauai in Hawaii as No. 1 this year.
As others have noted, he really should call his list "America's Best Saltwater Beaches." Leatherman, director of Florida International University's Laboratory for Coastal Research, ignores some incredible beaches on the Great Lakes. I'm most familiar with the beaches along Lake Michigan in Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin.
My favorite is Gillson Park in Wilmette, Ill., where I live. It has beautiful views of the North Shore, the north suburbs of Chicago. Nice sand, plenty of stones for skipping, clean water, gentle dunes with natural tall grasses and shade trees nearby.
Leatherman has been doing his top 10 beaches list since 1991. Visit his Web site here.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Who are these people following me on Twitter?




Microblogging service Twitter is about more than self-expression; it’s about self-promotion.
Since I signed up for Twitter on April 22, I’ve attracted 18 followers. I realize that’s no big deal because other Twitterers have many thousands of followers. But I’m doing little to attract followers.
I’m not into that social media game of trying to attract as many “friends” on Facebook or wherever to pump up my ego. On Twitter, I follow just 13 Twitterers, including six colleagues or friends. The rest are mostly media accounts, such as IBD’s Investors.com, EW’s PopWatch, The Onion and Netflix.
Other than colleagues and friends, the rest of my Twitter followers are people who somehow discovered my Twitter account. If I was interested in growing my followers, I would reciprocate and follow them as well. But I’m not, so I won’t.
The more Twitterers you follow the harder Twitter is to use. It becomes less relevant the more voices you follow on it. How can someone follow hundreds or thousands of people on Twitter? It just becomes noisy and confusing.
So, who are these people following me on Twitter?
Mostly they’re just people trying to promote a product or Web service.
First, there’s sexy Shannon, a pretty blonde with large breasts overflowing from a pushup bra and tight white shirt. Looking like one of those True.com girls, Shannon is shown sitting provocatively at her computer.
Is this Shannon interested in me? No, it turns out. She’s just a model plugging some IQ testing service. (By the way, Shannon’s account was suspended recently, probably for commercial misuse of Twitter.)
Other followers are promoting their businesses. One has a personal coaching and motivation business. A second has a marketing business, which uses Twitter to increase PR and awareness. A third has a business consulting service. A fourth is selling stock-picking advice.
Yet another, Solipsistic Nation, is promoting a weekly radio show and podcast featuring all genres of electronic music.
Another follower, the lovely Jaime, is promoting a movie called “Hired Gun” on Netflix. The action movie, which stars Michael Madsen, looks like a direct-to-video release.
I’ve also got a gangsta rapper named Dynamic who’s flacking his latest single, “Throw Dem Grands,” as a follower of mine. I have news for you, Dynamic, I’m not your target demographic.
Then there’s Mike Cleveland, pastor of Ohio Valley Church in West Salem, Ohio. For some reason, this self-proclaimed “lover of the gospel” who sends out “gospel tweets” wants to follow me. Be my guest, pastor.
Pretty eclectic group, I’d say.

Photos, from top down:
Shannon
Dynamic
Ohio Valley Church

‘Flash Forward’ looks like the fall TV show to watch

The major TV networks finished presenting their fall schedules to advertisers last week and the prospects for interesting new shows are slim.
For starters, the networks have cut the number of open time slots for new shows. NBC is abandoning the 9 p.m. Central hour Monday through Friday in favor of Jay Leno’s new primetime comedy-talk show. The CW has given up on programming Sunday nights and will leave that to affiliates. CBS is pretty much sticking with its existing lineup plus a spin-off of one show (“NCIS: Los Angeles”) and a castoff show from NBC (“Medium”).
Here are the new shows that have piqued my interest so far:

“Flash Forward”

I like the pedigree of this show. The executive producers are David S. Goyer, who co-wrote “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight” as well as the “Blade” movies, and Brannon Braga (“24,” “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and “Star Trek: Voyager”). Goyer and Braga created one of my favorite TV shows in recent years, “Threshold” (2005-06). The two men co-wrote the pilot for “Flash Forward” and Goyer directed it.
“Flash Forward” chronicles the aftermath of a global event in which everyone in the world blacks out for 2 minutes, 17 seconds and has mysterious visions of six months into the future. It’s based on the 1999 novel by Robert J. Sawyer.
ABC is pairing the show with “Lost,” so they have faith in it.
This looks like the show to watch this fall.

“Day One”

NBC’s “Day One” sounds like a mashup of “Melrose Place,” “Cloverfield” and Steven Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds.”
The series follows a group of neighbors in a Van Nuys, Calif., apartment building who survive a global catastrophe that has devastated the world’s infrastructure. Projectiles from the sky wipe out cities around the world and weird things begin growing from the ground. The survivors face an uncertain future as they attempt to rebuild society and unravel the mysteries of what happened.

“The Vampire Diaries”

Based on a series of books by L.J. Smith, “The Vampire Diaries” is the story of two vampire brothers – one good, one evil – obsessed with the same beautiful girl and battling to control the fate of an entire town.
Airing on the CW, the show is being written by Kevin Williamson, who created “Dawson’s Creek” and the horror films “Scream” and “I Know What You Did Last Summer.” The CW is pairing “The Vampire Diaries” with its hit “Supernatural.”
With HBO’s “True Blood” series and the “Twilight” movies, people might be getting sick of vampire stories involving young people.

“Pirate Hunters: USN”

Spike TV is working on a documentary series about U.S. Navy pirate hunters. No air date has been set for the series that follows Navy vessels patrolling pirate-infested waters of the coast of Africa.
My main concern with the series, “Pirate Hunters: USN,” is that it might make a better two-hour documentary than a weekly TV series. Of course, I said the same thing about the Discovery Channel’s popular “Deadliest Catch,” now in its fifth season.
Also on the horizon is an alien invasion show for TNT from filmmaker Steven Spielberg. Plus, TBS is developing a slice-of-life sketch comedy show called “Wee Hours” that uses the talents of Chicago’s legendary Second City comedy troupe.
All I’ve seen are the synopses for these shows. I’ll wait to read the reviews and maybe watch an episode or two before I make a commitment to any of them.
Returning shows on my watch list include ABC’s “Lost,” the CW’s “Supernatural,” Fox’s “House” and “Dollhouse,” and NBC’s “30 Rock.”
Unfortunately, two of my favorite shows were canceled – Fox’s “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” and ABC’s “Cupid.” And prospects look grim for another, the CW's "Reaper."

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The failed promise of digital content – Part 2: Video



As with recorded music, many movies and TV shows have not made the transition to digital.

"Resurrection"

I’m still waiting for the 1980 drama “Resurrection” to be available on DVD or digital download. The movie is a four-hankie tearjerker about a woman who experiences the afterlife for a brief time after a car wreck that kills her husband and soon discovers she has the power to heal others with her touch.
“Resurrection” was nominated for two Oscars, including Ellen Burstyn for best actress in a leading role and Eva La Gallienne for best actress in a supporting role.
It’s hard to believe that a movie as well regarded as “Resurrection” isn’t on DVD yet. The movie was produced by Universal Pictures, now a unit of NBC Universal, which is majority owned by General Electric. (GE owns 80% and French utility operator Vivendi owns the rest, according to Hoovers.)
A lot of old movies are deteriorating in film vaults, but this movie is only 29 years old.
Here’s an idea: NBC Universal should put “Resurrection” on its Hulu streaming video Web site.
Kudos to Warner Bros. for recently putting many of its lesser known movies and TV shows on a Web site for purchase as custom DVDs or for digital download.
Warner Bros. has more than 6,800 movie titles in its vaults, but only 1,200 have ever come out on DVD, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. The company put out 4,000 titles on VHS videocassette tapes but those are now out of print.
The company has more than 2,000 titles that it never released in any format, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
I’m still waiting for a number of TV shows to be available on DVD or for digital download. I’m hoping that these shows don’t get lost in the transition from analog to digital.

"Harry O"

Those missing shows include “Harry O” (1974-76), a private detective show starring David Janssen of “The Fugitive.” Janssen played Harry Orwell, a San Diego cop forced into retirement when he is shot in the back. To support himself, he works as a private investigator.
The critically acclaimed show ran for two seasons on ABC, with two pilot movies and 44 hour-long episodes.
Guest stars included Jodie Foster, Farrah Fawcett, Cab Calloway, Sal Mineo, Anne Archer, Robert Loggia, Roddy McDowall, Kurt Russell and Martin Sheen.

"Brimstone"

Another show I’ve been longing to see again is “Brimstone” (1998-99). The Fox show lasted less than one season. It starred Peter Horton as a dead police detective on a mission from the Devil to return 113 spirits who have escaped from Hell to Earth. Only 13 episodes were aired.
Both “Harry O” and “Brimstone” are owned by Warner Bros. Home Video, so I can only hope that they show up on the Warner Archive soon.

Other TV shows missing in action

I have a habit of choosing to watch new shows that end up getting cancelled in their first season.
Here are five more quality short-lived TV shows that aren’t available on DVD or digital download: “Cupid” (1998-99), “Robbery Homicide Division” (2002-03), “Miss Match” (2003) and “Karen Sisco” (2003).
Will they be lost in the digital transition?
More info on these shows can be found at the Internet Movie Database and Wikipedia.

Photos, top to bottom:
Movie poster for “Resurrection” (from IMDb)
TV Guide cover of “Harry O” (from
The Harry O Page)
Promotional art for “Brimstone” (from
The Brimstone Zone)

Rosetta Stone language software can’t help you tell a joke


One of the hardest things for someone learning a foreign language is to make a joke in that language.
Rosetta Stone Inc., the language-learning software company, says a full course of 120 hours can get you to a conversational level of fluency. Its language-immersion products can teach you to do more than navigate and get things done, but to have a conversation and give opinions in a foreign language, Rosetta Stone CEO Tom Adams told me for Investor’s Business Daily recently.
“How about tell a joke?” I asked Adams.
“Tell a joke? That’s the hardest thing. That’s always hard to teach. You either have a sense of humor or you don’t,” Adams said with a laugh.
Adams, by the way, speaks Swedish, English and French fluently. He has a working knowledge of Spanish, speaks some Chinese and is now learning Russian.
Here’s a joke (told to me by a multilingual acquaintance):

Q: If someone who speaks two languages is bilingual, what do you call someone who speaks one language?

A: American

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Wyoming tourism bureau targets Chicago

Wyoming’s tourism bureau is blanketing the Chicago area with advertisements on billboards, in newspapers and on TV.
The ads are doing their job, because they’ve got me thinking about vacationing there. Billboards with scenes of Devil’s Tower and Western beauty have fueled my imagination. I’m thinking it would be a great place for a family vacation or maybe a “mancation” for me and my old college roommate.
Tourism is Wyoming’s second largest industry, surpassed only by the oil, gas and minerals industry, according to Wyoming Business Report. The top three tourist destinations in Wyoming are, in descending order: Yellowstone National Park, Jackson Hole, and Grand Teton National Park, according to the Wyoming Business Council.
Wyoming is spending $921,000 on TV ads in Chicago running March through May. That’s 38% of the state’s spring TV advertising budget and the most for any single market, says the Wyoming Business Council.
The state also spent $200,000 on 15 billboards in Chicago for April and May.
Why Chicago? Maybe it’s the whole “City Slickers” thing of city dwellers longing for the great outdoors.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Another reason not to take Twitter seriously: Microblogging cat has 500,000 followers

One week, actor-model Ashton Kutcher is calling Twitter “as significant and paradigm-shifting as the invention of Morse code, the telephone, radio, television or the personal computer.”
The next week, a microblogging cat named Sockington – “Socks” for short – signs up more than 500,000 followers who want to read his thoughts on cat naps and fur balls. (Here's his Twitter page.)
Kutcher is now the second dumbest creature using Twitter.
An Associated Press story on Socks says this about the implications of a twittering tomcat:
There’s the risk that a tweeting cat will only further the impression that Twitter is a flash-in-the-pan success in a sea of online time-wasters. But in a way, Sockington is a parody of Twitter, where even a kitty cat's life – his daily trips to the litter box, his insignificant household travails – is beamed out to the world.
Parodying Twitter has become a national pastime, pitting those who love the service against those who think it’s absurdly stupid. The anti-Twitter movement reminds me of the backlash that ultimately destroyed disco in the ‘70s. Some people loved the disco scene, but even more rose up to criticize it as a fashion and musical travesty.
I’ve chronicled the Twitter backlash on Tech-Media-Tainment – from humorous videos to political cartoons. I’ve also pointed out the many abandoned and fake Twitter accounts (historical figures, body parts, and characters from cartoons, movies and TV shows).
But the AP article points to another large set of Twitter users – people posting 140-character tweets as their pets. I’m not sure if that’s cute or sad.
It reminds me of the classic cartoon from The New Yorker with the caption, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”
Then there’s the whole Patrick Swayze episode from this week that highlighted Twitter’s ability to spread false news stories quickly. A Florida radio station posted a message on Twitter that said the actor had lost his battle with pancreatic cancer and was dead at age 56, according to Reuters. Not true.
And not a great week for Twitter’s reputation.

JournalistTweets joins long list of services leveraging Twitter

JournalistTweets is another service that leverages the open infrastructure of microblogging service Twitter.
It aims to serve a niche audience, similar to the way StockTwits targets investors.
Well, at least they didn’t call it JournalistTwits.
JournalistTweets is described as “a Twitter directory of journalists by industry and country.” It’s a venture of media tracking service Cision. JournalistTweets uses Cision’s media database to gather journalists using Twitter.
I realize that JournalistTweets is still in beta or test mode, but it could use some improvement. For starters, it’s not a directory as advertised. There’s no way now to see a listing of all the journalists on the service or those that specialize in four categories -- business, entertainment, health and technology.
Like other tweet aggregators, it’s kind of a mess. It rewards quantity not quality. So those journalists who post a lot of tweets, get the best placement.
I’m on the service, but I only post one or two tweets a day when I’m active on Twitter. So my comments will get buried quickly by other posts on the modern-day bulletin board.
Cision needs to create ways for people to follow specific journalists within JournalistTweets, block others and discover new journalists. Then it might be useful.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Twitter business model: Ads, no; T-shirts, yes


Micro-blogging service Twitter is saying no to advertising as a way to generate revenue for the money-losing venture. But it’s found another way to make money: T-shirts.
Twitter has partnered with Threadless to launch Twitter Tees by Threadless, the official Twitter-sanctioned T-shirt store, according to Mashable.
Threadless CEO Thomas Ryan declined to discuss financial terms of the deal, Mashable reported. But you have to assume Twitter is getting a cut of sales.
Wow, T-shirt sales. That’s going to make Twitter a lot of money. Oh, and they aren’t even the first to sell T-shirts with custom tweets off Twitter. TWItoShirt and Twitshirt beat them too it, according to Mashable.
Meanwhile, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone said Monday that Twitter is working on various ways to make money, but advertising is not an option currently being considered. Stone says Twitter is developing various add-on tools and services for businesses and professional users of Twitter, according to the New York Times.
Again, that doesn’t sound like a very exciting business.
I’ll admit I’m a little fixated on Twitter. It’s like a car accident and I can’t look away. It’s attracting lots of rubberneckers and gawkers, but most will drive on by and forget about it soon.
Twitter might be around for a long time in some shape or form. But I can’t see how it’s ever going to be profitable.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Twitter isn’t cool; Too many old people use it


Research firm comScore this week reported that unique U.S. visitors to micro-blogging service Twitter have quadrupled to 17 million in the last two months.
In a blog post, Andrew Lipsman, director of industry analysis at comScore, wrote that the growth curve for Twitter over the past year looks like a textbook “hockey stick.”
The big question is whether the new visitors are lookie loos curious about all the media attention or future users of Twitter. Much of the growth in April’s audience was fueled by interest in celebrity users like Oprah Winfrey. Even I joined on April 22 to see what all the fuss was about.
I think that “hockey stick” growth curve looks like a house of cards when you consider Twitter’s poor user retention rate. See previous post.
Another problem for Twitter is that older people are driving the growth of the service, not hip young people.
Specifically, 45- to 54-year-olds were 36% more likely than average to visit Twitter, making them the highest-indexing age group. (Guilty. I’m 46.) And 25- to 34-year-olds were 30% more likely to visit Twitter. See articles on comScore and eMarketer.
Among younger ages, 12- to 17-year-olds were 41% less likely than average to visit Twitter. And those 18 to 24 were 12% less likely than average to visit.
Potential advertisers can’t be thrilled with those age demographics. Twitter still hasn’t found a way to make money on its service.
Older people are often seen as resistant to change. Case in point: Look what happened when Twitter tried to improve its service by clearing out some of the clutter of “one-sided (message) fragments,” according to the New York Times. Twitter users (read: grumpy old people) complained loudly and got Twitter to back down.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Microsoft’s Image Composite Editor works like magic

Sometimes technology is so amazing that it seems like magic.
That’s the case with Microsoft’s Image Composite Editor, or ICE for short. It’s software that can automatically stitch together overlapping photos of a scene or image to create a single, seamless composite photo.
Like magic, it can assemble the puzzle pieces of a larger image and make a panoramic image or complete picture from separate shots.
For my post yesterday on music that isn’t making the transition to digital, I scanned three album covers on a small flatbed scanner. I had to take four images of each side of each album cover. Using the ICE software, I added the four images into the program and it figured out how they fit together. It was simple … and simply amazing.
Above is the cover of the “Little Robbers” LP album by The Motels, which I referenced yesterday. ICE created the image using four corner images of the cover.
Microsoft ICE is available as a free download from Microsoft Research. It works on computers running Microsoft’s Windows XP and Windows Vista operating systems. Check it out here.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The failed promise of digital content


The digital transition is leaving a lot of music and movies behind.
Back when the Internet was young and known as the “information superhighway,” pundits predicted a time when whole libraries would be converted into ones and zeros, the binary language of computers.
Physical books would give way to electronic books easily accessible via the World Wide Web. Generations of audio and video entertainment would be in stored in cyberspace as well. As a 1999 commercial for Qwest Communications put it, “every movie ever made” would be available for viewing over the Internet. (See video on sister Web site One Stop Video.)
Books, newspapers, magazines, music, television shows and movies would all be digitized and made available online, the technorati predicted.
But copyright laws and corporate disinterest have gotten in the way of that dream.

Part 1: Music

Consider music. Many vinyl LP records never made it on to CDs. They were never digitized by the record labels so they aren’t available for download either, except through peer-to-peer file sharing, which is considered illegal.
Some musical works are orphans, where the rights holders are unknown or can’t be located.
But many more are controlled by record labels that are unwilling and uninterested in making older works available. They don’t see a return on investment in digitizing analog works.
Many albums are out of print and the music isn’t available for digital download.
A friend of mine with a turntable and a recording setup on his PC recently digitized three LP albums from the 1980s for me.
The LPs were Wild Blue “No More Jinx” (1986), Sandy Stewart “Cat Dancer” (1984), and The Motels “Little Robbers” (1983).
The first two albums were never issued on CD. The hits from the latter were put on compilation albums, but the entire album, including some of my favorite tracks, are not available on CD or for digital download from Apple’s iTunes or Amazon.com.
There are other albums from that era I’d love to get too, but aren’t available in digital form. They include House of Schock, a short-lived group featuring Gina Schock, drummer for the Go-Gos. That group put out one album in 1988.
This music really captures an era. The synthesizer-heavy melodies and beats and power ballads are distinctive of the time. These recordings bring back a lot of memories of the 1980s.
I’m just glad I was able to bring some into the 21st Century with me. Because it doesn’t look like the rights holders ever will.

Album covers from Wild Blue “No More Jinx” (top) and Sandy Stewart “Cat Dancer.”

Friday, May 15, 2009

Renewals of ‘Dollhouse,’ ‘Reaper’ possible, but with major compromises


Two of my favorite TV shows, “Dollhouse” and “Reaper,” might return with fresh episodes in the fall, but both would have to make changes that could hurt their quality.
Fox reportedly has picked up “Dollhouse” for a second 13-episode season, according to Michael Ausiello of EW.com. But producers of the show have agreed to a “drastically reduced budget,” Ausiello writes.
I hope that doesn’t affect the quality of the show. I remember when NBC cut the production budget of “Miami Vice” (1984-1989) in its final years. The show lost its slick, theatrical film quality and started looking cheap and slapdash.
The CW’s “Reaper” might return with new episodes as a syndicated program or on cable, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
But again, there’s a catch. The show’s budget would have to be slashed. Also, some of the talent behind the show has already left for new shows.
“Reaper” creators/executive producers Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters are gone and Tyler Labine, the actor who plays comic sidekick “Sock” Wysocki, has signed to star in a new Fox comedy, “Sons of Tucson.”
The producers of “Reaper” likely would have to take the show in a completely new direction. Labine is one of the best things about “Reaper.” He’s a hoot and will be missed.
Chalk up the renewal of these two shows to: Be careful what you wish for.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 8 disappoints; switching back to IE7

I recently uninstalled Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 8 and went back to using the previous version of the market-leading Web browser.
Microsoft released IE8 on March 19, but I didn’t install it until last month. I used it for two or three weeks on my Windows XP desktop PC before going back to IE7.
IE8 had some notable improvements – new security features and better management of tabs – but it had a fatal flaw for me: It was painfully slow. It would hang up when loading some Web pages. It could take minutes for IE8 to launch Google’s Blogger application, for instance.
I’ve seen comments online about IE8 using a lot of memory. That sounds like a reasonable explanation.
I’ll miss some of IE8’s advancements, such as isolating browser crashes to one tab and not the whole browser. But the slowness of IE8 was a deal breaker for me.
Another thing I didn’t like about IE8 was the fact that it wouldn’t remember which folder I was using to save Web bookmarks. It always defaulted back to the main favorites listing and I had to select the folder or subfolder I was using. IE7 always remembered which folder I was last using.
If there was a way to get IE8 to remember the last bookmarks folder used, I couldn’t find it in the help menu.
By the way, I’ve tried Internet Explorer’s main rival, the open source Firefox browser, but I’m not sold on it.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Lego Star Wars and the business genius of George Lucas


I didn’t truly appreciate the business genius of George Lucas until my son, who just turned 6, started asking for Star Wars-themed Lego kits and video games. This from a child who had never seen a “Star Wars” movie or TV show.
There’s little dispute that “Star Wars” creator George Lucas sold out his franchise to cash in on the lucrative toy market. Fans of the first two movies – “Star Wars” (1977) and “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980) – saw that first hand when the teddy bear-like Ewoks appeared midway through “Return of the Jedi” (1983) and practically ruined the movie.
Before Saturday morning cartoons were created to sell toys, Lucas hit upon the idea for his Star Wars franchise.
The original “Star Wars” was actually a nominee for Best Picture at the Academy Awards for 1977. Many critics feel that “The Empire Strikes Back” is even better. Those movies were made for adults and kids at heart.
By the time, “Return of the Jedi” came out Lucas was a wealthy man from sales of Star Wars action figures and other toys. So for the third film in the series, he started targeting young kids. He softened the tone of the movie and added more comic relief.
When he decided to make a new trilogy of movies, he continued to market them to kids. The protagonist in “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace” (1999) was a 9-year-old boy. The movie features a juvenile character named Jar Jar Binks. And much of the violence in the movie is directed at robots, or droids, minimizing the bloodshed.
“The Phantom Menace” and its two follow-on chapters – “Attack of the Clones” (2002) and “Revenge of the Sith” (2005) – featured a dizzying array of creatures and warriors obviously designed to sell more action figures. And the mindless action sequences seemed more like ads for Star Wars video games.
Which brings me back to Lego Star Wars. These toys and video games are marketed to preschoolers, kindergarteners and elementary school-age kids. My son loves the space ships, robots and light saber fighting.
The Lego sets are outrageously expensive for what you get. A $40 set of Star Wars Legos contains maybe 20 cents worth of plastic. The bulk of the expense must go to packaging and shipping costs and licensing fees to Lucas’ company, Lucasfilm.
Lego, and presumably Lucasfilm, limit the number of Star Wars mini-characters in each set so buyers are encouraged to get multiple sets. And there are a lot of sets.
Lego and Lucasfilm have been working together on toys since 1999. Lego’s Star Wars licensing deal runs until 2011.It’s a shame Lucas couldn’t balance his desire for toy sales with quality filmmaking. The three newest Star Wars films were terrible.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Jay Leno’s primetime show might just work

Some television critics have already written off Jay Leno’s five-nights-a-week primetime show set to debut this fall. They don’t think the American viewing public will be interested.
But I think it has a good shot at succeeding.
First, NBC has set low expectations for "The Jay Leno Show." The network is already in fourth place and sees the show as a cheap (and profitable) way of filling the one-hour time slot Monday through Friday at 10 p.m. Eastern and Pacific (9 p.m. Central.)
It costs NBC about $15 million a week to fill that time slot with dramas. Leno’s show will cost less than $2 million a week, according to the New York Times.
NBC has said it would be happy just to retain the audience from Leno’s current hour-long show, “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” which airs at 11:35 p.m. Eastern and Pacific (10:35 p.m. Central), according to Time. Last year, Leno averaged 4.8 million viewers for his show, with 1.7 million people in the category of viewers ages 18 to 49, which most advertisers favor, the New York Times said.
Second, Leno’s primetime show is counterprogramming to all the bleak crime dramas on other networks. NBC plays up this fact in its promo video for Leno’s new show. (See above.)
Leno’s primetime program will feature a format similar to his “Tonight Show,” including his monologue and comedy bits like “Headlines” and “Jay Walking.”
NBC also will get more weeks of original programming. Leno will perform 46 weeks a year. Network dramas typically air 22 to 24 new episodes a year.
Third, times have changed. With the Internet, cable TV and video games, viewers have more options for entertainment. And attention spans seem to have gotten shorter. Hour-long dramas just aren’t drawing the viewers like they used to.
Leno’s new show won’t require a season-long commitment to long-form story telling. Viewers can tune in, check out the comedy bits and see some interesting guests. No commitments.
It could offer a coveted primetime platform for rock bands, musical groups, comedians, etc., if it decides to go more the variety show route. Since it will be taped daily, it will give Leno and guests the opportunity to comment or joke about the day’s events. Since it will be fresh, taped daily, it will get a larger percentage of live viewers rather than DVR watchers. As such, viewers will be less likely to fast forward through advertisements. Advertisers will like that.
Leno’s new show is likely to draw a larger audience than his “Tonight Show” because many people don’t stay up late enough to watch it. Particularly on the coasts, the “Tonight Show” is on too late for many workers.
So don’t write off Leno. He could surprise a lot of people.

Monday, May 11, 2009

What’s Twitter worth?

PaidContent.org has an interesting analysis of how much micro-blogging service Twitter is worth.
Rumors have been rampant that Apple tried to buy Twitter for about $700 million recently, the article states. But based on unique monthly visitors and the purchase prices for YouTube, MySpace and Bebo, PaidContent pegs Twitter’s current value at $300 million. That’s less than the $500 million that Facebook reportedly offered for Twitter last fall.
Twitter’s business prospects are less obvious than those of video-sharing service YouTube and social-networking sites MySpace and Bebo. Plus, those services never faced the ridicule and backlash that Twitter is undergoing. Twitter is the butt of many jokes these days.
When Twitter poster boy Ashton Kutcher calls Twitter “as significant and paradigm-shifting as the invention of Morse code, the telephone, radio, television or the personal computer,” you know it’s a joke. (See story in TheDeal.com.)
Nielsen says Twitter’s poor user retention rate limits its overall Internet reach to 10%, according to the New York Times. (Twitter’s reach is now about 1.7%.)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Key ingredient for a successful blog



Successful blogs have a narrow focus. They cover one thing obsessively, be it from pop culture, technology, business, sports, etc.
By that standard, Tech-Media-Tainment is a total failure.
TMT reflects me. As such, topics for posts are all over the map. I’ve got a lot of interests, mostly of the high-school-boy-who-never-grew-up variety. Movies, TV, music, pop culture, sports, tech, news media, business, wacky stuff, libertarian rants, I like to talk about them all.
Maybe that’s why I became a journalist. Journalists know a little bit about a lot of things, generally speaking. “Jack of all trades, master of none,” as the expression goes.
For now, I’m comfortable with what I’m doing on Tech-Media-Tainment. I started it as a goof, a creative outlet, and a way for me to gain a greater understanding and appreciation for new media.
I love the fact that there are experts on the Web about subjects as specific as antique radios or television commercials.
The recent Webby Awards provided some good examples of niche blogging. Winners included My Star Wars Collection by Joshua Budich and 1000 Awesome Things. The former lovingly details Budich’s large collection of “Star Wars” action figures and collectables. The latter contains musings about life’s simple pleasures.
The Web site Sandrific has photos and descriptions of sand from beaches around the world. It was a Webby nominee in the personal interests and hobbies category.
Another Webby nominee was Sad Guys on Trading Floors. It features photos of traders on the NYSE and other financial exchanges with funny cutlines.
Just look at TV and entertainment Web sites and you’ll find many with a very specific focus.
There’s TV Series Finale, a Web site “devoted to the last episodes of your favorite shows … and beyond.” Or look at TVShowsOnDVD.com, which meticulously documents which shows are and aren’t available on DVD. Then there’s Jump the Shark, which chronicles when good TV shows turn bad.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Mother’s Day gift ideas: mop and exercise equipment


For generations, men have been told that the worst gifts they can give women are products for cleaning the home or for working out.
Cleaning products, like vacuum cleaners, are a message to women that they should tidy the home, reinforcing a sexual stereotype. Exercise gear is a message to women that they need to lose weight or get into shape, implying that they aren’t attractive.
For this Mother’s Day, iRobot is promoting its floor-washing robot Scooba, which is basically an intelligent mop. And GameStop is marketing Nintendo’s Wii Fit, a fitness video game, as “fun for Mom.”
Sure, Scooba is a great time-saver for mopping the kitchen floor, but it still requires some work. (Filling the robot with cleaning solution and emptying the dirty water when it’s finished.) IRobot also sells Roomba robotic vacuum cleaners.
And Wii Fit may be a fun video game, but it is still a fitness product.
I wonder how well those marketing campaigns have worked.

Pictures above:
Advertisement for iRobot’s Scooba (top) and GameStop’s promotion for Nintendo’s Wii Fit.

Friday, May 8, 2009

My first LOL

I’ve posted my first LOL.
It’s a timely photo for the swine flu epidemic. I got the photo from my colleague Brian Deagon in Los Angeles, who got it from a PR person in New York. It’s probably been circulating for a while on the Internet.
I uploaded it to the Fail Blog Web site, added a caption and posted it. Fail Blog is one of several funny photo sites run by Pet Holdings Inc., which operates the LOL Cats photo site I Can Has Cheezburger?
The editors at Fail Blog haven’t chosen to spotlight it, but I’m going to post it here at Tech-Media-Tainment. Here’s a link to my LOL Fail photo.

Of course Twitter isn’t for sale; who’d be dumb enough to buy it?

During an appearance Wednesday on ABC’s “The View,” Twitter co-founder Biz Stone declared that the micro-blogging and social networking service wasn’t for sale.
Media reports have had Apple, Google and Microsoft interested in buying Twitter, but those big companies have to be wary of overpaying for this year’s “next big thing,” which is likely to be next year’s big disappointment.
Asked about a possible acquisition of Twitter, Stone said, “We’re just getting started, as I’ve said. The company is two years old. We have so much to do, so much product stuff to fix, and so much growing to do.”
Asked point blank if Twitter was for sale, Stone said, “no.” (See Reuters story.)
That sounds like someone who isn’t getting any offers he considers worthwhile. Stone and other investors in Twitter are expecting a big payout like the heady days of the Web 1.0 bubble and the Web 2.0 frenzy.
Maybe Stone is holding out hopes of becoming the next Mark Cuban, who famously sold his money-losing Broadcast.com for $5.7 billion in April 1999 to Yahoo (suckers!).
Twitter already turned down a $500 million takeover bid last year from Facebook.
Big publicly traded companies have lost too much money on unprofitable Internet services in recent years not to have learned their lesson. In this new age of austerity, brought on by the Great Recession, companies don’t want to get burned by some value-destroying acquisition.
EBay lost boatloads of cash with its September 2005 purchase of Skype for $2.6 billion. Google bought YouTube in November 2006 for $1.65 billion and is losing money hand over fist with the video-sharing service.
Twitter has signed up millions of users, but it’s unclear how many of them are active. The San Francisco-based company also hasn’t figured out a way to generate revenue from the service. But it has figured out how to generate tons of hype.
Twitter has attracted a lot of press coverage, but an equal amount of ridicule. See “Twitter, like Skype, is overhyped” by TheDeal.com. Also check out Slate’s mockumentary about a company called Flutter that aims to take micro-blogging to the next level.
With all the jokes and mockery at Twitter’s expense, any company that buys the service now will be a laughing stock.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

What I’ve learned about blogging … so far


I’ve been blogging since early November. Here are some of my impressions about the medium:
  1. Blogging is time consuming. No wonder Twitter is gaining in popularity for personal expression online. Blurting out 140-character tweets is a lot easier than trying to compose your thoughts and say something meaningful in a longer composition. I’ve been watching less TV and getting less sleep in the six months I’ve been blogging on Tech-Media-Tainment. I don’t blog during work hours, so something has to give in my personal life.

  2. The shorter, the better. When it comes to posts, no one wants to read something long. The Internet is about quick hits, saying what you need to say and getting done fast. Some of my posts on big issues and topics have been a little long. But I’ve learned to break up the text with subheads and bold face type for emphasis. Lists and bullets also break up longer pieces into easier to read chunks.

  3. Photos and art are a big plus. Photos, screen shots and graphics really liven up blog posts. Some of my earliest posts didn’t have any art, but I went back and added art to them later because I liked the results. Occasionally I’ll use photos I’ve taken, but most of the time they’re screenshots or photos I’ve lifted off the Web. I’m relying on the principle of “fair use” to do this. I provide credit for these low-resolution photos and links to the owners’ Web sites.

  4. Successful blogs need a laser focus. There are a lot of blogs out there where people post family photos, discuss their personal lives and anything on their minds, but I’m not interested in those. The sites I frequent are those about specific subjects I find interesting. And they can get pretty granular. (Blogs about a single company, entertainment niches, etc.) They have news, opinions, photos or videos that I can’t find elsewhere or that is organized in a useful manner.

  5. Must update frequently. Blogs must be updated at least a couple times a week or chances are I’ll never come back. I’m sure other people are the same way.
Those are my quick impressions six months in to my blogging experiment. Does Tech-media-tainment have another six months in it? We’ll see.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Webby Awards draw attention to some cool Web sites

There’s a lot to like about the Webby Awards, which are called the “Oscars of the Internet.”
For starters, they honor some truly useful, informative and entertaining Web sites, blogs and online services. They salute some of the year’s most talked about Internet phenomena (e.g. Twitter and Sarah Silverman’s “I’m Fucking Matt Damon” video), but also draw attention to some little-known Web sites and services.
This year’s nominees and winners (announced Tuesday) put some cool Web sites on my radar.
They include comedy sites Fail Blog and Sad Guys on Trading Floors and weird sites like CrappyCat. In the banking and bill paying category, there are Billeo and Rudder. The Webbies also drew my attention to the 5 Blogs Before Lunch business blog.
The awards will be handed out at a ceremony June 8 in New York City. It’s a good thing winners are limited to five-word acceptance speeches because there are, by my count, 129 award categories.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Palm could be reviving its Foleo mini-notebook

Palm might be resurrecting its aborted Foleo device to make a play for the hot netbook market.
Trip Chowdhry, an analyst with Global Equities Research, says Palm intends to produce a $399 netbook that will run the Palm WebOS operating system, which will debut soon on the eagerly awaited Pre smart phone.
I’m one of the few people who thought Palm should have pressed ahead with its original Foleo device. It could have defined the netbook category before Taiwan’s Asus came out with the Eee PC, the first popular netbook, in late 2007.
The netbook category has evolved a lot since then, moving closer to traditional notebook PCs. The original netbooks were Linux based, but Microsoft, sensing a threat to one of its core businesses, quickly made a version of its Windows operating system for netbooks. Now netbooks are basically low-end notebook PCs with smaller screens.
Palm’s resurrected Foleo could redefine the netbook category and bring it back to the original vision of a class of devices between smart phones and notebook PCs.
Netbooks were originally designed as secondary notebook PCs. These ultraportable devices would be small, lightweight and designed for users to whip out in coffee shops to surf the net, blog or manage e-mail.
If Palm does come out with a Foleo product, it should stay true to the ideals of the original. As such, it should have a full-size keyboard for comfortable typing. It should have flash memory for long battery life. It also needs to be able to create and edit Microsoft Word documents and Excel spreadsheets and read PowerPoint slides and PDFs.
And it should turn on and off instantly, something slow-booting Windows PCs can’t do.

Photo above:
The original Palm Foleo subnotebook, which debuted in May 2007. Palm canceled the product in September 2007 in order to focus on its core smart phone business.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

'Run, Blago, Run!': An example of 'creative vandalism'



I’ve always had a soft spot for what I call “creative vandalism.”
It’s still property damage, but it’s designed to elicit a laugh or a smile. Typical vandalism is usually graffiti done out of hatred or to mark gang territory or spread a tagger’s name around. Creative vandalism is more like a practical joke, a witty statement or a clever stunt.
Recently in Chicago, some artist has been spray-painting a stenciled portrait of disgraced former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on concrete and brick walls around town. The work of art has been dubbed “Run, Blago, Run!” because it shows the ex-governor running in his jogging clothes. Blagojevich, who’s facing federal corruption charges, is shown looking over his shoulder. (See Chicago Tribune article and NBC Chicago article and video.)
On Jan. 26, two electronic road signs in Austin, Texas, were changed by hackers. The signs had been warning drivers of construction ahead. But the hackers made the signs flash such messages as “Caution! Zombies Ahead!,” “Nazi Zombies! Run!” and “The End Is Near.” (See video on One Stop Video.)
In the Washington, D.C., metro area, artists sometimes paint “Surrender Dorothy” on a railroad bridge over the outer loop of I-495 near the Mormon temple in Kensington, Md. The striking architectural design of the temple reminds the artists of the Emerald City from “The Wizard of Oz.” (See Wikipedia entry.)
If only other graffiti artists could be as clever.

Photos, from top down:
“Run, Blago, Run!” graffiti (Chicago Tribune photo)
Hacked electronic road sign in Austin, Texas (AP photo)
D.C. area Mormon temple that inspired highway overpass graffiti “Surrender Dorothy”

Friday, May 1, 2009

Celebrating failure on the Web

The blogosphere is a cruel place. Bloggers revel in other people’s misfortunes and mistakes. Schadenfreude is the name of the game.
I’ve come across a number of Web sites lately that celebrate failure.
Fail Blog is one of my favorites. It takes great relish in posting pictures and videos that mock people who've done stupid things. It’s a sister site of I Can Has Cheezburger, the popular site for funny cat photos and captions. Fail Blog has been nominated this year for a Webby Award.
(See sample Fail Blog photo above.)
ICHC also runs a photo blog called Engrish Funny, which makes fun of humorous foreign translation errors on signs, menus, T-shirts and elsewhere.
This is Photobomb celebrates the fine art of photo hijacking -- where someone spoils a photo shoot either intentionally or not.
Then there are the numerous snarky Web sites devoted to ridiculing celebrities and public figures. They mock their bodies, clothing choices, social missteps ... well, everything actually.
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