Monday, June 29, 2009

'Creative vandalism’ strikes again

As I’ve previously written, I’ve got a soft spot for vandals with a creative streak.
During the “Urban Cowboy” craze after disco died in the early 1980s, a country-western bar called The Hot Spur opened in my hometown of Libertyville, Ill. My high school buddies and I thought it was pretty funny when someone spray-painted an “M” on the end of the bar’s name. Pretty adolescent humor, but funny nonetheless.
Now comes word out of Raleigh, N.C., that police have charged a 21-year-old college junior with larceny and destruction of property, both misdemeanors, for another incident of creative vandalism.
According to the AP, Joseph Carnevale chopped up three stolen orange and white traffic barrels to create a massive sculpture of a roadside monster thumbing a ride.
Carnevale saw the 10-foot sculpture as “street art,” but police just saw vandalism.
In cases like this, police or the courts should let the offender pay for damages and maybe a small fine.
I’ve described “creative vandalism” as graffiti or other property damage designed to elicit a smile or a laugh. It’s more like a practical joke, a witty statement or a clever stunt than malicious property damage.

Photo from The Smoking Gun.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Skis, Princess Elizabeth doll were prized Depression-era gifts for my parents

In the elevator at my parents' condominium complex recently a stranger remarked to me and my father about my son’s portable video game system, the Nintendo DSi. “We sure didn’t have toys like that when I was a kid,” he said.
That was true for me and but even more true for my father. Given the plethora of toys and other amusements for kids today, I asked my parents about the playthings they got as children. Their responses say a lot about how times have changed.

James A. Seitz, 80, is a retired research pharmacist with Abbott Laboratories:

I never made any special requests for toys as a young boy. My friends never did either.
During our youth, it was the Depression era – the 1930s. Growing up in a small town during the Depression period, our needs were simpler.
I had a cane fishing pole, little trucks and cars that I used in the sand lot and, when I was 12, I got a small bike.
One toy that every boy managed to have was a baseball – or softball – and a glove. When I got a little older, I played on a community baseball team in Fairchild, Wisconsin, and we traveled around the area.
Things were simpler back then. If we wanted to go swimming, we walked or rode our bikes a mile or a mile and a half out of town to a lake. It was a manmade lake built where they dammed the river. We’d only go out about 15 feet to a shallow area because none of us were very good swimmers. And there were no lifeguards.
My most treasured gift was a pair of skis. All of my friends had skis so my parents finally got me a set so I could ski with them. I was 12 years old and got the skis for Christmas. The set didn’t come with poles.
That gift was so treasured because of all the memories I had skiing with my friends.
We’d ski primarily on the hill in back of the school. The school housed both the grade school on the first floor and the high school on the second floor.
I lived about a block and a half from school. The school was on top of the hill and we lived at the bottom of the hill. In the winter, I’d sometimes bring my skis to school so I could ski home for lunch.
I had those skis until junior year in high school when I outgrew them and there were given away. I never skied again after that.
My cane fishing pole also was a prized possession because I was able to teach my little brother, Dick, how to fish. We’d fish in the same lake we swam in. We caught small fish – bluegills mostly. I also felt good about catching the fish and bringing them home. My mom would clean them and cook them.
Toys that were popular in the late ’30s and early ’40s included electric trains, marbles, sleds and saucers. Games that kids liked were tiddlywinks, jacks, Tinkertoys, Parcheesi, pickup sticks, Chinese checkers, checkers, cards, dominoes, and Monopoly.

Alice L. (Kelly) Seitz, 76, is a homemaker who raised seven children:

My most treasured gift was a Princess Elizabeth doll I received for Christmas when I was 8 years old. England’s Princess Elizabeth was so prominent back then that everyone knew who she was. If you had one of these dolls you felt like you were playing with the princess. She was so beautiful when I received her. She had a beautiful white dress with sparkles, a silver tiara and a red velvet cape. I no longer have the doll.
Another treasured gift was my bicycle. It was red and white with a basket on the front. I rode it everywhere in town (Jim Falls, Wisconsin). Not every kid had a bike, so it was a big deal if you had one. I got mine when I was about 11.
When I was growing up, some of the toys that girls wanted were paper dolls, tea sets, dolls of any kind, jump ropes, doll buggy, doll beds, table and chair sets, roller skates (the kind that fit under your shoe).
We learned about toys and kids stuff primarily through contact with other children. Radio programs had intermissions and during those intermission times they would have cereal commercials that advertised certain toys such as BB guns, watches, decoders, Shirley Temple cereal dish set just to name a few. Christmas catalogs from Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward also were a big way to find out what gifts kids wanted.

Photo:
Princess Elizabeth doll similar to one owned by Alice L. (Kelly) Seitz when she was growing up in Jim Falls, Wis.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Movies that feature dramatic bomb detonations at their climax

The season five finale of ABC’s drama “Lost,” which aired May 13, used a certain plot device I’d seen before, but was still very satisfying.
In the episode, called “The Incident,” Juliet Burke (Elizabeth Mitchell) professes her love for James “Sawyer” Ford (Josh Holloway) before falling into a pit with a nuclear bomb that failed to detonate. Juliet, Sawyer and other survivors on the strange South Pacific island had been trapped in the past (1977) and hoped that exploding the bomb at that particular location would change the future and save them all.
Juliet survives the fall, albeit severely injured, and hits the nuclear core with a rock repeatedly until it explodes. The screen goes white. Cliffhanger ending until next season.
That episode got me thinking of movies where a character, usually gravely wounded, dramatically explodes a bomb and sacrifices themselves or seeks revenge.
I can think of five good examples.
The first was “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.” In that 1982 sci-fi movie, villain Khan Noonien Singh (played by Ricardo Montalb√°n) is gravely wounded after a space battle and detonates the Genesis device on his ship to destroy the crippled USS Enterprise and his rival Admiral James T. Kirk. Khan quotes from “Moby Dick” as he activates the bomb. “‘From Hell’s heart ... I stab at thee. For hate’s sake I spit my last breath ... at thee,’” Khan hisses. Very dramatic stuff.
Other examples of such climactic bomb explosions in movies include “The Bridge on the River Kwai” (1957), “Beneath the Planet of the Apes” (1970), and “Predator” (1987).
Convinced there were more examples, I reached out to the Netflix community on the Ning social network.
I got some interesting responses: “Black Sunday” (1976), “Aliens” (1986), “Dog Soldiers” (2002) and “Dead Snow” (2009). I even put “Black Sunday” and “Dead Snow” on my Netflix list.

Photo at top from “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.”

Friday, June 26, 2009

My Twitter ‘followers’ are trying to sell me stuff


I’ve got 41 followers of my Twitter posts. But most of them aren’t interested in what I have to say. They're trying to sell me something.
I’ve got “followers” who are pitching TV on PC services, as well as stock-picking and other get-rich-quick schemes.
Recently I’ve attracted three new “followers” who write the exact same things. Click on their Twitter accounts and you’ll see them promoting an adult dating service called One Night Date Link, which has the slogan “Hookup Tonight In Your Area For A ‘No Strings’ Encounter.”
To make these Twitter accounts look “real” and not completely commercial, Alyvia Deicher, Chloe Mohan and Lorene Iggie (almost certainly fake names and photos) write comments like “just awoke from the best nap ever” or “pool time gotta work on my tan.” Then they get back to business: “kind of horny might look at adultmyspace for some fun.”
They all write the same damn things. That’s lazy marketing, fellas. The least you could do is have one say they’re feeling “really horny” or “super horny” instead of “kind of horny.” You guys aren’t even trying.

Photos:
Twitter follower “Chloe Mohan” and the adult dating service she’s promoting

Dead pool activity heating up as celebrities start dropping


The death of pop singer Michael Jackson on Thursday was the latest in a bunch of big-name celebrity deaths in recent weeks.
First, actor David Carradine (“Kung Fu” and “Kill Bill”) died in Thailand on June 4 of an accidental hanging or suicide. Then, TV host Ed McMahon passed away on June 23. Actress and 1970s sex symbol Farrah Fawcett died after a long battle with cancer June 25. Later that same day, Jackson died.
Until this month, 2009 had been rather uneventful for celebrity deaths. Mostly B-listers passed on (Dom DeLuise, Bea Arthur), but few big household names.
Some lucky contestants in online dead pools benefitted from the untimely demise of these celebrities and other public figures. With 2009 nearly at the midpoint, it’s time to check in on the most prominent dead pools to see how prescient their contestants were.
Let’s start with Stiffs.com, which is known for making light of celebrity deaths. (Ed McMahon: “Heeeeeeeeeeere’s Eternity!” and King of Pop Michael Jackson: “He touched so many ...”)
Two contestants are tied for first place. Both picked Fawcett and one picked Jackson among their selections.
At TheDeadpool.com, a player known as the Grim Reaper is leading with a score of 128 and three deaths (Fawcett, basketball player Wayman Tisdale, and North Carolina State University women’s basketball coach Kay Yow).

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Advertising, publishing industry woes weighing on Adobe Systems

Adobe Systems, maker of graphic design and electronic document software, is going through a slow patch in sales right now. Two of its key customers – the advertising and publishing industries – are struggling during the current recession.
Magazines and newspapers are hurting because advertising sales are down. Journalism Web sites provide a depressing litany of news about newspaper and magazine layoffs and closures.
The problems of the advertising and publishing industries are one reason for slow sales of Adobe’s Creative Suite 4 product family, which launched in mid-October 2008. CS4 revenue is running more than 20% below CS3 at the same point after its release, Adobe Chief Financial Officer Mark Garrett told me June 16.
“People are starting to talk about CS5 already, but we think there’s still a lot more opportunity here,” Garrett said. Creative Suite is upgraded every 18 to 20 months. Following that pattern, CS5 would be out in mid- to late 2010. The Creative Suites include such separate design products as Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Flash and Dreamweaver.
“The silver lining in all of this is we could get some pent-up demand for CS5 because we’ve potentially got people who in this economy just won’t migrate to CS4,” Garrett said. “But we’re a long way from giving up on CS4 adoption.”
I asked Garrett about the struggles of print media and its impact on Adobe’s business.
“To your comment on newspapers and magazines, yes, some will fold, but others will move to the Web,” Garrett said. “I think we will have the opportunity to sell potentially different tools and services as they move to the Web than we were able to do before. Similar to the way Photoshop used to be just about print and then moved to the Web. I don’t think the impact is going to be as severe as you might think. We’re just going to be selling them tools to help them get on the Web now.”

Monday, June 22, 2009

Girl games take video game industry by storm

During the E3 video game conference this month in Los Angeles, I noted how games for girls were gaining prominence and that the male-dominated game press didn’t want such games to share the stage with traditional macho games.
I wrote about the growth of girl games for the Tuesday issue of Investor’s Business Daily.
The industry officials I spoke with gave me their impressions of how the male reporters and bloggers responded to girl games during the media events at E3.
“To those people who were snickering in the press, shame on them, because they missed a big story,” said Chip Lange, vice president and general manager of Electronic Arts’ EA Hasbro division. EA detailed its “Littlest Pet Shop” and “Charm Girls Club” games at the show.
Tony Key, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Ubisoft Entertainment, also had a message for the juvenile boys who hooted and hollered during the girl game presentations: “Grow up. Are you in this industry or not?”
Ubisoft presented its "Petz," "Imagine" and "Style Lab" games for girls at the show.
NPD Group analyst Anita Frazier said, “A lot of the media covering the games market are core gamers themselves and come at it from that angle. A lot of them are primarily interested in the games they themselves would want to play.”
But by ignoring girl games, they’re ignoring the business side of the industry and an important new market, she says.

Photo from Electronic Arts showing a presentation at E3 of EA’s new “Charm Girls Club” game for Nintendo’s Wii.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sign of the Great Recession


The Great Depression had the Public Works Administration.
The current Great Recession has the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
I took the above photo on June 14 in Wilmette, Ill., on Skokie Boulevard, just south of Hibbard Road. It shows a sign proclaiming that the road construction project was funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Skokie Blvd., which is U.S. Route 41, is being torn up and resurfaced thanks to federal government economic stimulus funding.
The sign also includes the slogan “Putting America to Work,” a new logo for the act and a Web address for Recovery.gov.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act contains about $787 billion in domestic spending in education, health care and infrastructure, as well as tax cuts and expansion of unemployment and welfare benefits.

'Reaper' stays dead, another loss for quality TV

In my post yesterday where I mourned the loss of ABC’s “Cupid,” I had meant to say a few words about another good TV show that got the cancelation axe – the CW’s “Reaper.”
The comedy-drama had a good two-year run, with 31 episodes. That’s more than lots of shows I like. Better to burn short and bright than to fade out like other shows.
For the uninitiated, “Reaper” is about a slacker, Sam Oliver (Bret Harrison), who finds out his parents sold his sold to the Devil and now he must work as a bounty hunter for Hell. Sam later finds out that the Devil (Ray Wise) is his father and wants him to one day rule the underworld. But Sam would rather lounge around with his buddies and do nothing. Each episode, the Devil gives Sam a vessel (Dustbuster, Super Soaker, etc.) to capture escaped souls from Hell. Sam’s main goal is to survive long enough to find a way out of his parent’s contract with the Devil.
“Reaper” fans had hoped the show would be picked up for a new season in syndication or on a cable network like the Sci-Fi Channel, but those options withered, TV Series Finale wrote June 9.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Goodbye again, Cupid; You’ll be missed


ABC burned off the final episode of its canceled reboot of episodic comedy-romance show “Cupid” this week. It’s a shame so few people watched this terrific TV show.
ABC didn’t give it much of a chance.
Those of us who loved the 2009 “Cupid” as well as the original 1998-99 “Cupid” are left to wonder about the central mystery of the show: Is the lead character really the Roman god of love or just a nut-case matchmaker?
Maybe it says something about the times we live in when a show about romance and love can’t survive on network television where violent crime dramas thrive.
“Cupid” was the creation of Rob Thomas, who also was behind the highly-regarded “Veronica Mars.”
I’m still waiting for the original “Cupid,” starring Jeremy Piven and Paula Marshall, to show up on DVD or be available for digital download. According to Wikipedia, 15 episodes were filmed and all but one aired. The new “Cupid” lasted just seven episodes.
If only the “Cupid” remake had aired on some cable channel like Lifetime where low network ratings would be considered huge.

Photos: Original “Cupid” (top) and the new “Cupid.”

Thursday, June 18, 2009

‘Ashes to Ashes’ best new TV series this year

I just finished watching season one of the BBC television series “Ashes to Ashes” and I can’t wait for season two.
I fell behind on my TV viewing this spring and the show sat on my DVR for weeks unwatched. It took me a couple of episodes to warm to it because I was a big fan of its predecessor, “Life on Mars,” and “Ashes to Ashes” is quite different.
“Ashes,” in some ways, is a better show. It’s funnier and has more heart than the original. It's also the best new show I've watched this year.
Both feature time-traveling cops who must deal with out-dated police procedures and social mores, while trying to figure out how to get back home.
In “Life on Mars,” detective Sam Tyler is injured in a car accident and wakes up in 1973. In “Ashes to Ashes” detective Alex Drake is shot and wakes up in 1981. In both shows, they find themselves assigned to the police squad of DCI Gene Hunt, a boorish but effective old-school cop.
Both shows are limited run series on British television. “Life on Mars” ran two seasons (2006-07). “Ashes to Ashes” (2008-present) just finished running second two in the U.K., with a third and final season planned. The complete U.K. “Life on Mars” and season one of its sequel have run on BBC America in the U.S.
(Let’s all forget about the horrible ABC remake of “Life on Mars,” which was canceled after a shortened first season this year. It had cringe-inducing bad writing and acting and perhaps the dumbest series finale of all time.)
Below is a promo video for “Ashes to Ashes” season two.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Report on YouTube overreaches with claims of nefarious Google plot


Industry speculation over how much money YouTube is losing for parent company Google heated up again Wednesday with the release of a new report.
In the report, consulting firm RampRate estimates that YouTube will lose about $174 million this year. That compares with an estimate by Credit Suisse of a $470 million annual loss.
So, either YouTube is losing a lot of money or an astronomical amount of money.
Much of RampRate’s report seems self-serving, touting how it has saved clients “an average of 20% on IT infrastructure services including bandwidth, data center/co-location, managed services, content delivery, IT support/helpdesk, and other related areas.”
Ring the bell for a marketing plug!
RampRate says it can “secure very favorable wholesale (bandwidth) rates … based on our experience working with other top Internet, e-Commerce, and media firms.”
Ring! Ring!
RampRate seems to know what it’s talking about when it comes to how much companies can and do spend on securing Internet bandwidth for distributing video.
But where I fault the report is on some of its other headline-grabbing conclusions.
The authors of the RampRate report say Google is seeking to create the impression that YouTube is a big money loser in order to ward off competitors, secure favorable deals with licensed content providers and to keep copyright lawyers at bay.
The name of the report is provocative: “YouTube: Google’s Phantom Loss Leader. How Google shelters profits from content owners while building a delivery juggernaut.”
What profits? Even RampRate admits the video-sharing Web site is a big money loser.
RampRate says Google likely gets very favorable wholesale rates for bandwidth and runs its data centers in less expensive locales.
What RampRate admittedly doesn’t understand is advertising and the content side of the business. And that’s precisely where RampRate overreaches with its nefarious claims for “Don’t be evil” company Google.
RampRate doesn’t challenge Credit Suisse’s revenue assessment for YouTube, which is trying to build a business selling advertising with its videos.
Most of the videos on YouTube are low-quality, user-generated content that YouTube can’t monetize. And there’s a lot of it. In May, YouTube reported that users were uploading a staggering 20 hours of video every minute. And that figure has been growing.
RampRate must assume professional content providers like the TV networks and movie studios are a bunch of rubes. Content providers can see the metrics on video viewership. They aren’t going to give away their content because they feel sorry for Google losing money. The value of their content has been established by other channels of distribution and the studios won’t want to undercut that.
As for competition, Hulu and other video sites have sprung up to offer professional video content. No one is going to chase the user-generated video content business now, because there’s no money there. Rivals however will go after the premium content business.
As the Associated Press notes, there’s no benefit to Google for making public its expenses for running YouTube. It’s likely Google is using the scale from YouTube’s traffic to get favorable IT infrastructure deals for its Web search and cloud computing businesses.
So Google is not trying to scare away rivals and attorneys with reports about its massive losses at YouTube. It’s speculation by analysts and consultants who are driving this story.
RampRate should stick to what it knows well and leave the crazy conspiracy theories to the bloggers.

Amid all the garbage on YouTube, there are some gems. At top is a video of a dance-off at the 2009 Big East Baseball Tournament. When their baseball game got rain delayed on May 21, players from the USF and UConn settled the score not with bats, but with dance.
For more entertaining YouTube videos check out sister site One Stop Video.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Lakers win; Stocks lose

The Lakers curse continues.
Major stock indexes fell for the second day in a row, according to Investor’s Business Daily. It also happens to be two days since the Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA championship.
“Laker championships in 1987, 1988, 2000, 2001 and 2002 corresponded with some bleak times for stocks. And the team's loss last year (2003) just happened to coincide with the end of the biggest bear market since the Depression,” Chris Gessel wrote in “The Big Picture” column in IBD on June 17, 2004.
And now that the Lakers, led by star Kobe Bryant (pictured above), have won the championship again, stocks are tumbling.
Coincidence? Sure. But where’s the fun in that?
Who knows if the down days will continue on Wall Street? But one thing’s likely: the coincidence is bound to end sometime.
Remember the myth that said whenever the Washington Redskins won their final home game before the presidential election, the incumbent party won the White House? And vice versa?
That fell in 2004 when the Redskins lost to the Green Bay Packers. By that myth, Democrat John Kerry should have won the presidency. But he didn’t. Pres. George W. Bush was re-elected.
Before that election, the Redskins Rule had held since 1940, or 16 straight presidential elections. (The Redskins football team moved from Boston to Washington in 1937.)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Despite media warnings, some morons called 911 when their analog TVs went dark

Told you so.
As I predicted last Thursday, some idiots would call 9-1-1 when their analog TVs went blank because of the digital TV transition on Friday.
On Twitter, many people commented about seeing TV news anchors cautioning them not to call the 911 emergency number to report problems receiving TV programming, which is clearly not an emergency. (See screenshot above.)
Maybe to some people, not getting “America’s Funniest Home Videos” is considered an emergency.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Saturday that “A few St. Louisans who woke up Friday morning without TV called 911 for help.” The St. Louis Fire Department received less than 100 calls Friday morning, “with several of those calls going through the 911 system,” the paper reported.
I can only assume that similar calls happened in major metropolitan areas nationwide. No arrests were reported, so apparently the cops are giving the morons a break.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Twitter is being co-opted by marketers and mainstream media


A new study on Twitter has determined that 5% of Twitter users account for 75% of all activity on the microblogging service.
What’s more, 15% of Twitter users account for 91% of activity on the site, according to Sysomos, a social media analytics firm. Sysomos analyzed data on 11.5 million Twitter accounts for its study posted June 11.
Sysomos said 21% of Twitter users have never posted a Tweet and 85% of all Twitter users post less than one update per day.
Twitter might not be about “two-way micro-conversations as it is about one-way micro-broadcasting,” as TechCrunch noted recently. Most people on Twitter are sheep who don’t tweet much, TechCrunch said.
Just as Web logs, or blogs, were co-opted by mainstream media outlets and commercial enterprises, so too is Twitter. As Twitter has grown, it’s become an audience that companies like Dell can market to and news organizations like CNN and Fox can exploit.
Those organizations are now started to dominate the conversation because they can blast out so many news stories and updates or marketing pitches.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Playboy magazine needs to be remade for men who’ll read it ‘for the articles’ again

Like other consumer magazines, men’s magazine Playboy is struggling.
Declining circulation and advertising have slammed the monthly magazine, which was founded in 1953 by Hugh Hefner and famously featured nude photos of actress Marilyn Monroe in its first issue.
Circulation peaked at more than 7 million in 1972. Playboy now sells about 3 million issues a month in the U.S.
Scott Flanders, the incoming CEO of parent company Playboy Enterprises, says he believes Playboy magazine has a future.
“I’m a big believer in print — particularly the viability for glossy magazines,” he told Folio magazine. “That reader experience can’t and won’t be duplicated online, even where I see the reader technology moving."
Playboy hasn’t lost its relevance, he said. “I believe the magazine will come back,” said Flanders, who begins his new role on July 1.
When I was an adolescent growing up in the 1970s in Illinois, getting your hands on an issue of Playboy was a big deal for boys. Looking back, that truly was a simpler time.
Playboy today is tame compared with the hardcore pornography available for free on the Internet. Why would some guy shell out more than $5 for a copy of Playboy when pictures of attractive, sexy women are just a mouse click away?
Yes, Playboy is about more than the pictures of beautiful women. The cliché was always that men would say they read it for the articles. Throughout its history, Playboy has published high-profile interviews with politicians, artists, economists, athletes and other public figures, as well as short fiction from prominent authors.
It’s a classy, dignified magazine, but it’s also dull and doesn’t speak to young men today. It has an old-fashioned, snooty, high brow air about it. It has favored jazz and cocktails over rock-n-roll and beer. “Lad” magazines like Maxim and FMH eventually filled that niche.
My suggestion for Playboy magazine is to become much more aggressive in pursuing the libertarian bent that it has always expressed on political and social issues.
It should take a leadership role on issues such as the legalization and regulation of marijuana and prostitution. It should take politicians to task for wasteful spending and unnecessary legislation. It should propose answers for fixing the massive problems with government today.
Playboy could become a must-read when it comes to thoughtful advocacy articles and investigative stories that espouse libertarian views.
Then, men really would have a reason to buy the magazine “for the articles.”

Friday, June 12, 2009

Twitter might not last, but the concept will

Although I’m highly skeptical about Twitter as a business, I do think the concept of short message communication that it’s fostered will persevere.
Time magazine hit on this point in a June 5 story called “How Twitter Will Change the Way We Live.” Writer Steven Johnson wrote:

Social networks are notoriously vulnerable to the fickle tastes of teens and 20-somethings (remember Friendster?), so it's entirely possible that three or four years from now, we'll have moved on to some Twitter successor. But the key elements of the Twitter platform — the follower structure, link-sharing, real-time searching — will persevere regardless of Twitter's fortunes, just as Web conventions like links, posts and feeds have endured over the past decade.

The only part of his argument that isn’t accurate is his implication that young people in their teens and 20s are the big users of Twitter. They’re not. Older people are driving the growth of the service. People ages 45 to 54 are much more likely to use Twitter than those 24 and younger. (See “Twitter isn’t cool; Too many old people use it.”)
Much of the content on Twitter is so much blather and a waste of time. But the service, which broadcasts users’ thoughts and opinions in 140-character updates, does have some utility.
It’s great for sharing links to longer articles, videos and interesting Web sites. This is especially true of media services using Twitter.
Scrolling through lists of microblog posts gets old fast, but the ability to do live searching on topics of conversation can be interesting. The Time article refers to this as the “super fresh Web.”
Red flags about Twitter’s prospects pop up in the form of studies into its user base.
First, there was a report in April by Nielsen Online about “Twitter quitters.” Nielsen determined that more than 60% of U.S. Twitter users fail to return the following month.
Then there was the comScore report in May about mostly older users (read: Oprah fans) gravitating to the service.
This month, a Harvard University study found that just 10% of Twitter users generate more than 90% of the content. (See “Twitter hype punctured by study” by the BBC.)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Expect 9-1-1 calls over digital TV transition

Prediction: Some irate Americans will call 911 to complain when they lose their television signals in the hard switchover from analog to digital television on Friday.
After all, in recent weeks, we’ve had people arrested for misusing the 911 emergency phone service for everything from complaining about poor fast-food restaurant service to needing help getting out of a locked car.
(See Oddee.com list of the “10 Dumbest 911 Calls.” Also see the article “911 dispatchers dealing with non-emergency calls,” which says at least 25% of 911 calls are for non-emergencies.)
Most recently a man in Hillsboro, Ore., called 911 to complain that McDonald’s left a juice box out of his drive-through order. (See article here.)
Then there was the case of a woman calling 911 to bitch about her roommate trying to take away her beer. (See article here.)
So it seems logical to me that idiots will call 911 when their TV screens go blank on Friday because they didn’t prepare for the transition over the last two-plus years.
My last DTV prediction was spot on.
In early February, as President Barack Obama was preparing to sign a bill extending the digital TV transition date from Feb. 17 to June 12, I predicted that many people still wouldn’t be ready after four-month extension.
On Feb. 5, I wrote, “Come June 12, there is likely to be a set of stubborn, lazy, ignorant or very poor people who still haven’t made the switch. I’m estimating 2% to 3% of U.S. households will not be ready by the new date.”
Measuring service Nielsen on Wednesday said that 2.8 million U.S. households, or 2.5%, are what it called “completely unready” for the transition to digital-only television. At the time of my prediction the percentage of unprepared households was 5.1%. Not bad, eh?

Photo: DTV transition poster by the National Association of Broadcasters as seen in a Metro station in the Washington, D.C., area.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

You can thank Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda for the digital TV transition


The terrorists will score another victory Friday when U.S. broadcasters switch from analog to digital TV broadcasts.
The DTV transition is another victory for al-Qaeda, whose Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on U.S. soil led to the loss of freedoms here.
Because of Osama bin Laden and his followers air travel is now a colossal pain. That means taking off your shoes and sometimes belt at the metal detector. No more carrying liquids and certain toiletry items through security. (I had to pitch a perfectly good can of shaving cream last week thanks to alert TSA inspectors.) Then there are the politically correct, profile-free pat-down searches of little old ladies and other supposed threats. Oh, and no more greeting and dropping off loved ones at the airport gates anymore.
Plus, thanks to Osama and friends the government has permission to snoop on your phone calls and your library check-out activity.
Al-Qaeda’s latest victory in aggravating Americans is the forced digital TV transition.
The digital TV transition would have happened eventually, but al-Qaeda’s attacks, particularly on New York City, gave a political imperative to put an end date on analog broadcasts quickly.
The inability of first-responders – police, firefighters and paramedics – to communicate effectively after the attacks on the World Trade Center helped push through legislation for the government to regain the analog TV spectrum.
President George W. Bush signed the Digital Television Transition and Public Safety Act of 2005 into law on Feb. 8, 2006. Notice the addition of “public safety” in the name of the law. Politicians said freeing up the airwaves for better first-responder radio service would save lives.
They may be right. But probably more important was the money raised at auction from selling most of the spectrum to companies for mobile Internet services.
The Federal Communications Commission announced March 18, 2008, that the auction of so-called 700 MHz spectrum raised $19.592 billion for the government. That was nearly double the congressional estimates.
If it was just a money grab, Congress would have had a tough time pushing the legislation through. They knew the possibility of millions of Americans losing their TV signals in the switchover could cost them votes.
But the idea that spectrum would be freed up to help “America’s heroes” – the police and firefighters of New York and the country – softened the blow.
So if you’re unhappy about having to buy a converter box or upgrade to a digital TV set or subscribe to cable or satellite to avoid losing your TV programming, blame Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda cronies.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Apple aims to make Windows 7 its new whipping boy

Apple has provided a glimpse of how it plans to treat the launch of rival Microsoft’s Windows 7 operating system this fall.
In short, expect Apple to closely link the new Windows 7 to its much maligned predecessor, the current generation Windows Vista.
Apple has gotten a lot of mileage out of its long-running ad campaign that points out flaws with Windows computers while highlighting the benefits of its own Macintosh computers. Apple launched its “I’m a Mac. I’m a PC” commercials in May 2006. (See Wikipedia entry on Apple’s “Get a Mac” ad campaign.)
At Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference on Monday, Bertrand Serlet, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, said Windows 7 is “just another version of Vista.”
Apple used the event to tout its latest Macintosh operating system, Mac OS X Snow Leopard, due out in September. Microsoft’s Windows 7 is set for release Oct. 22.
Windows 7 has the same complexity of Windows Vista, Serlet said.
“Microsoft has dug quite a big hole for itself with Vista,” Serlet said. “And they’re trying to get out of it with Windows 7. But underlying Windows 7 you have the same old technologies.”
He noted such Windows problem areas as DLLs, the registry, disk defragmentation and the user account control.
So expect to see more of actors Justin Long (“Hello, I’m a Mac.”) and John Hodgman (“And I’m a PC.”) in advertisements this fall.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Steve Jobs' no-show at Apple conference shouldn't have been a surprise

Some journalists were stunned that Apple CEO Steve Jobs, on medical leave since January, didn't make an appearance at the company's Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco today.
Well, of course, he didn't show up. You can thank the Wall Street Journal and other media outlets for creating the impression that he would.
At the time he announced his medical leave, he said he'd return to work at the end of June.
His appearance at the WWDC, cameo or otherwise, would overshadow all of the product announcements. His health would again be the story, not the new iPhones, Mac operating system and MacBook Pro notebooks. Jobs wouldn't want that. He's no dummy. He understands the media.
If Jobs is healthy, Apple likely will want to get that news out there quickly upon his return and not distract from some cool new product, like the rumored touch tablet. If he's not healthy, expect an orderly transition to make current Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook the new CEO. Cook is already running the show.
Jobs, a survivor of pancreatic cancer, could stay on as chairman and take a new title like "chief innovation officer." Apple's board of directors currently doesn’t have a chairman, but two co-lead directors in Bill Campbell and Arthur Levinson.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Twitter Verified Accounts possible revenue generator for microblogging service

Twitter plans to implement “Verified Accounts” this summer so people will know that the person or company they’re following is the real deal and not an impersonator.
Twitter co-founder Biz Stone made the announcement in a company blog post Saturday in which he responded to a lawsuit by St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. La Russa filed a lawsuit against Twitter, claiming that an imposter using the microblogging service had damaged his reputation, according to the AP.
Twitter will offer Verified Accounts first to “public officials, public agencies, famous artists, athletes, and other well known individuals at risk of impersonation,” Stone said. “We hope to verify more accounts in the future but due to the resources required, verification will begin only with a small set.”
One thing he doesn’t mention is whether Twitter will charge for the service. And if so, how much?
Sounds like a no-brainer. I believe Twitter will have to charge for the service. It needs to start generating revenue from its millions of subscribers.

Screenshot of the beta for Twitter’s Verified Accounts service.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The failed promise of digital content – Part 3: Newspapers and magazines


As our society rushes to a future where newspapers and magazines are only available in digital form, a number of troubling issues have arisen.
These print publications were always a stable resource for finding information on a host of historical and cultural events and subjects. In particular, newspapers were considered the news source of record. For instance, local newspapers were the place that recorded such things as birth, wedding and death notices.
In their physical form they were suitable for archiving either in hardbound volumes or on microfilm or microfiche. More recently newspapers have been storing their articles, photos and graphics digitally and making them available either for free, to paying subscribers, or for a per-article fee.

Nothing’s permanent on the Web

But since nothing’s permanent on the Web, I’m concerned about access to such information in the future.
Who’s going to store that information?
Will it be available for years to come, if not forever?
Will it be locked in virtual vaults you have to pay to access?
What happens to that information when newspapers and magazines go out of business? (A worrisome trend of late.)
And what role will libraries play in providing access to that information as a public service?

Print media transition to the Web

Then there’s the issue of how news coverage might change in the transition from print publications to Web sites.
Will the number of professional journalists decline and affect the quality of news reporting?
Will traditional newspaper companies abandon coverage of news of record and leave those for other, perhaps niche Web sites?
I can envision wedding notices being taken over by services like The Knot; anniversaries and birth notices being picked up by other services with products to sell; and death notices being handled by Legacy.com or individual funeral homes.
How trustworthy are those sources for archiving information?
Not very.
When I got married in 2001, we had an engagement and wedding page on TheKnot.com. But that’s long gone now. As a public company, The Knot has no interest in saving those pages for archival purposes. Once you’re married, you are of no use to them because they can’t sell you honeymoon trips or things for your wedding any more.
Legacy.com can set up a memorial page for a deceased loved one, but it will cost you.

Wither cover stories?

Magazines today have a lot of clout when it comes to getting interviews with prominent business leaders, celebrities and other public figures. That’s because they can offer cover stories with photos and feature stories on rich, glossy paper.
But what happens when those dead tree editions give way to digital only magazines? Will magazines have the same clout?
Time, Newsweek, BusinessWeek and Forbes can always get Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos and other icons for interviews because they can offer that coveted cover story slot. A physical product like a magazine has inherent value and feels important. Plus, it’s displayed on newsstands everywhere in public. By comparison, digital-only stories and photos are hidden from view.
Being the cover girl for Vanity Fair, Vogue or even Playboy has cachet now. Online, not so much.
The media makes a big deal about the model chosen for the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine’s annual swimsuit issue. It likely won’t be such a big deal when it’s only online.

This is the third in a series on content lost in the analog to digital transition. Here is a link to the other two articles in the series “The failed promise of digital content”:
Part 1: Music
Part 2: Video

Friday, June 5, 2009

‘DJ Hero’ video game looks like a winner


Activision has a likely hit on its hands with the new “DJ Hero” video game.
The game, an extension of the company’s popular Guitar Hero platform, features dance club music and a turntable controller.
Activision demoed the new game at the E3 show in Los Angeles earlier this week. A DJ played along with some cool mixes such as Rick James’ “Give It To Me Baby” and Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl” in one session.
Activision says the new game will bring the DJ culture and new music genres, including hip-hop, electronic, R&B and soul music, to the Guitar Hero platform. The turntable controller features familiar DJ tools including a fully-rotating turntable, sample buttons, effects dial and crossfader.
“Players master various DJ techniques as they play along to visual cues for scratching, blending, crossfading and sampling, and can also add their own creative spark by choosing to add a variety of effects, samples and scratches,” an Activision press release says.
“DJ Hero” is set for release on Oct. 27. It’s being developed by FreeStyleGames for Microsoft’s Xbox 360, Sony’s PlayStation 2 and 3, and Nintendo's Wii. console It will retail for $120 for the current generation consoles and $100 for the PS2 version.
At the same time, Genius Products is developing a competing DJ video game for release this fall, called “Scratch: The Ultimate DJ.” It’s set for release on Nov. 30. May the best DJ win.

Photos:
Jamie Jackson, art director for “DJ Hero,” plays the video game at Activision’s E3 2009 booth.

George Lucas should have outsourced the last three ‘Star Wars’ movies



The preview trailer for a new “Star Wars” video game impressed a lot of jaded industry reporters at the E3 video game show this week.
I heard several people mention that the trailer was better than any of the last three “Star Wars” movies by franchise creator George Lucas.
“Why couldn’t Lucas have made a movie like that?” one attendee asked me.
Well, for starters, Lucas apparently didn’t have anyone close to him who could give him the straight dope. He’s probably surrounded by yes men and sycophants.
He’s also too interested in building his fortune by selling toys, games and party supplies to young kids.
People forget that Lucas didn’t direct the second and third movies of the original trilogy. Irvin Kershner (“Never Say Never Again”) directed “The Empire Strikes Back” and Richard Marquand (“Jagged Edge”) directed “Return of the Jedi.” And Lucas, who wrote and directed the first “Star Wars” by himself, had help with the screenplays of the next two movies.
The lousy, more recent, prequel trilogy was all Lucas’ handiwork.
Meanwhile, Lucas has outsourced the “Star Wars” video games to other people. Unlike Lucas himself, these creative professionals have a fan’s perspective of the franchise and can tell the stories that they’d like to see.
The trailer video for “Star Wars: The Old Republic” has the dark themes and action that adults want to see. (Watch it full screen.)
The massively multiplayer online role-playing game is produced by BioWare, a unit of Electronic Arts.
“It’s amazing what you can do with this universe once you pry it from George Lucas’ hands,” Marc Bernardin wrote on EW.com’s PopWatch blog.

Electronic Entertainment Expo 2009 ends


The Electronic Entertainment Expo, better known as E3, finished its three-day run today in Los Angeles.
The 2009 show was a return to the spectacle of previous years, with oversized exhibits filling the Los Angeles Convention Center, complete with a sensory overload of video and music.

Best of Show: Microsoft

Microsoft held its big media briefing on Monday, the day before E3 officially opened. It wowed reporters, bloggers and analysts with an impressive lineup of video game software and hardware announcements.
The event was a star-studded affair with appearances by the surviving members of the Beatles – Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr – to promote the music video game “The Beatles: Rock Band.”
“The game is good. The graphics are very good. And we look great,” Starr said. “The Beatles: Rock Band,” from Harmonix, MTV Games and Electronic Arts, is due out Sept. 9.
The widows of John Lennon and George Harrison – Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison – also appeared on stage to support the game’s debut.
Microsoft’s E3 press conference featured 10 exclusive new video games for its Xbox 360 console, including “Forza Motorsport 3,” “Alan Wake,” “Halo 3: ODST,” “Halo: Reach,” “Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Conviction” and “Left 4 Dead 2.”
But it was Microsoft’s introduction of “Project Natal” for controller-free gaming that generated the most buzz at the show. However, Microsoft did not announce a launch date for the system, which allows players to operate games with gestures, body movements and voice commands. It will work with existing Xbox 360 consoles.
Filmmaker Steven Spielberg came on stage to praise the innovative new gaming interface.

Second thoughts on Project Natal

As impressive as Microsoft’s demo of Project Natal was, I couldn’t help but wonder if gamers would find it lacking.
The live demos of players kicking virtual balls and painting a digital canvas were fine. But the canned videos showing players driving by pretending to hold a steering wheel or changing a tire by pretending to hold an impact wrench to remove and tighten lug nuts, looked weird.
If I’m playing a driving game, I’m going to want to grip a steering wheel. If I’m playing a shooting game, I’m going to want to hold a gun.
PCWorld writer Matt Peckham took a similar stance in a blog post. He talked about the need for a tactile response when playing video games, from rumble feedback to “button mashing.”

Big trends at the show

Some big trends at the show were motion-sensing controllers, sequels to hit franchises and games for girls (see earlier blog post).
In addition to Microsoft’s Project Natal, other new game controller schemes included Nintendo’s Wii Motion Plus for more precise control of on-screen action.
Sony introduced the PlayStation Motion Controller, a wand-like controller that can be used as a sword, flashlight, tennis racket, or shooter.
Pro skateboarder Tony Hawk demonstrated the skateboard controller for Activision’s “Tony Hawk: Ride” at the Microsoft press event. The board has full motion-sensing technology, so players can physically control the action by performing various movements and gestures on the board that directly translate into tricks in the game.
Sequels to popular game franchises were everywhere at the show. They included Sony’s “God of War III,” Activision’s “Modern Warfare 2,” and Microsoft’s “Halo: Reach.”

Photos:
Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney at Microsoft press conference to launch “The Beatles: Rock Band.”
Screen grab of Microsoft "Project Natal" video

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Girl games make their mark at E3


Testosterone-fueled video games were muscled aside at times at this week’s E3 show by gentle estrogen-powered games.
Games about cute pets, pajama parties, dresses and makeup were given their moment in the spotlight at media events held by major game publishers. The young male-dominated games press acted stereotypically immature when these games were introduced.
They cheered derisively and hooted and hollered when Electronic Arts, Sony and Ubisoft Entertainment projected art and video for their tween girls’ games during their presentations. Other attendees chuckled at the mischief makers’ over-the-top, feigned enthusiasm for the girly games.
I felt like I was back in junior high with all the boys-vs.-girls antics.
The comic belittling of girls’ games seemed to grow with each successive press conference.
When Sony, which held the last pre-show press conference, introduced its pink PlayStation Portable bundled with a Disney “Hannah Montana” game, the wolf pack shouted “Whoo-hoo!,” “Yes!” and “All right!”
It was the kind of enthusiasm reserved for some blood-drenched survival horror game or violent military combat game, the types of games popular with young men.
My message to the young men with gamer blogs and publications: Grow up. The video game market is big enough to support your “red meat” games, as analyst Billy Pidgeon called them in IBD, and games for other players.
I heard one young woman at E3 complain that the show was a “sausage fest,” meaning too many guys. (See the Urban Dictionary definition.)
The Entertainment Software Association’s 2009 Essential Facts guide to the industry says 60% of gamers are male.
At E3, Electronic Arts showed off its “Littlest Pet Shop” and “Charm Girls Club” games. Ubisoft touted its “Petz,” “Imagine” and “Style Lab” franchises for tween girls.
Ubisoft says its Imagine line for young girls is its fastest growing game franchise.
Perhaps change is in the air.

Photos:
Screenshot for Electronic Arts’ “Charm Girls Club: Pajama Party” for Nintendo Wii
Box cover art for Ubisoft Entertainment’s “Imagine Fashion Designer” for Nintendo DS

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The booth babes are back at E3


Video game industry professionals and the media had a lot of questions heading into this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles.

Would Sony debut a new version of its PlayStation Portable? Would Nintendo have a big Mario game for its Wii console soon? Would Microsoft and Sony come out with motion-sensing controllers to respond to Nintendo’s popular Wii remote? Well, yes, yes and yes.

But a big question – mostly among the male-centric gaming press – was: Would the new-and-improved, flashback E3 mark a return of scantily clad booth babes. The answer to that is a resounding yes.

E3 got rid of the booth babes and most of the fun at the conference a couple of years ago in favor of a staid “business summit” format. But this year, video game publishers hired busloads of beautiful young women to dress up as warrior princesses, sexy nurses and the like.

Ever the intrepid reporter, I even got photographic evidence (see above). But I must note that none of these women are as attractive and sexy as my wife. She reads this blog occasionally. Hi, honey.

The three-day E3 conference runs through Thursday.

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