Radio Open Source to Close

Posted on June 27, 2007. Filed under: Art, News, Open Source, Politics, Software, Technology |

I first started listening to Christopher Lydon when he hosted a show on NPR in Boston called “The Connection.” I was living in Massachusetts at the time. This was back in the late 90s, before the tech bubble burst. His show was so intelligent and informative that I became a regular listener. After I left New England, I was chagrined to find that his show was not nationally available. But he soon moved on to other things.

What made “The Connection” so great? I think it was Lydon’s openness to new ideas, the great range of his intellectual curiosity, and his ability to listen–not just to his guests–but to everyone. According to my recollection, at least half of each show was reserved for listeners to call in. Lydon demonstrated the power and the joy of listening–and this is still his greatest gift.

I had similar hopes for “Radio Open Source,” Lydon’s current project. The idea behind OS was to allow listeners to contribute to the development of show topics using the Internet. The web site also encouraged listeners to comment on shows. “Radio Open Source” took the format of “The Connection” to the next level of user participation. In that sense, “Radio Open Source” had far more potential than “The Connection.”

The shows I downloaded were as interesting as they were informative. Unfortunately, “Radio Open Source” is shutting down. I hope it gets new funding and it returns this fall. Until then I will pick up the mantle, raise my escutcheon against the fray, unsheath my rapier, carry the standard, beat the bongos…well, let’s not get carried away.

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iPhone is going to be huge hit!

Posted on June 26, 2007. Filed under: Apple, News, Software, Technology |

I sat on the sidelines while the hype rose about the iPhone. I had my doubts about the design. I still have some. One is about the software keyboard: I don’t know how many users will prefer this feature to the tactile feedback of the little buttons on the Blackberry. I suspect that the iPhone will appeal to the lighter users of keyboards: the heavier users will have a hard time getting used to hitting the glass. My other complaint is with the price: this is really a marketing issue. $499 to $599 for a phone is high. But buyers will be able to rationalize because they are getting an iPod and a high-end cell phone. What throws the iPhone over into hit territory for me are the price plans that were just announced by AT&T: The starting price is about $60.00 for 450 minutes and unlimited data. If I’m reading that right, that means downloading media on iTunes will not count against the 450. I’m guessing that most people pay a lot more than $60/month for cell phone charges.

That said, I’m not buying one. 8GB is too small. And in my view, Verizon is the best carrier in my neck of the woods. I was an ATT customer once, and I had a lot of dropped calls and dead zones. Too many. And guess what? The next version of the phone will probably be announced in a few months–at a lower price point–with more storage space.

Here’s what I’d like to see in version 2.0:

1. Large hard drives: 15, 30GB, 80GB.
2. Allow connections to Airport for broadband (without ATT)
3. Bluetooth connections to external monitors, printers, and keyboards
4. Expandable RAM, smart cards
5. Better camera

Let us replace our desktops!

Check out this FAQ on the iPhone!

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Posted on June 22, 2007. Filed under: Apple, Humor, Jokes, News, Software, Technology |

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Sperm Banks

Posted on June 15, 2007. Filed under: Humor, Jokes, Main Stream Media, News, Technology |

David Brooks’s latest column in the New York Times has been attracting attention in the blogs, and I don’t want to be left behind. I quickly scanned the column, and now I’m gonna throw my two cents in.

Brooks is cranky because in the sperm market, the demand for blond, blue-eyed, intelligent, and athletic people is greater than that of short milquetoasts like himself. Sperm, it seems, now have resumes. Little, bitty, cute resumes. This, combined with the scientific theory that the future of a child is genetically determined, makes it easy to understand why the sperm market behaves as it does.

First, have some pity for syndicated columnists. The work doesn’t pay a lot of money, given the intelligence and education that many nationally syndicated columnists possess. And the worst part of it is that they have to produce copy even when they have nothing to say. We bloggers don’t have that problem because we can write whenever we choose. And we also don’t have to sign our names. It’s phenomenal, really. We write. And we keep our privacy. So give the columnists a break. They do this shit for a living.

Anyway, I liked this column and I thought it was funny. And it’s true. You never hear about a person going to a sperm bank and asking for short, unathletic traits. That doesn’t sell. But consider the possibility that the people who think they’re buying the sperm of a Greek God are actually buying the sperm of a bum or drug addict–the kind of guy who needs to sell his sperm for money. Does a tall, educated, successful, attractive man need to sell his sperm for a few bucks? I imagine that some of the men who need to sell their sperm are probably also “giving” blood–four or five times a week. So take heart David Brooks.

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A Lotta Fucking TV Screens

Posted on June 15, 2007. Filed under: Humor, News, Software, Technology, Television |

I don’t mean to be crude or crass, but if Bill Gates’s and Steve Job’s visions are fulfilled, you, me, and every other schmo is going to own a lot of fucking television sets. How many? God himself only knows. I came to this realization after listening to Bill and Steve at the D5 conference podcast. Here’s Bill Gates on the future:

“I believe in the tablet form factor…And then you’ll have the device that fits in your pocket.”

Ok. Ok. A laptop and a “device” that fits in your pocket. A little vague. Sounds possibly sexual. Probably means a cell phone. But wait.

“Well, home, you’ll have your living room, which is your 10-foot experience, and that’s connected to the Internet and there you’ll have gaming and entertainment and there’s a lot of experimentation in terms of what content looks like in that world.”

You got that right. For a lot of people that’s gonna mean porn. And gambling. And catatonic kids staring into gigantic 10-foot screens. But wait, there’s more.

“And then in your den, you’ll have something a lot like you have at your desk at work. You know, the view is that every horizontal and vertical surface will have a projector so you can put information, you know, your desk can be a surface that you can sit and manipulate things.”

It seems to me that while this is a perhaps generous view of the future, the “cart,” as it were, is before the “horse.” Not every one has a home with a den and a living room. Many never will. Before every one has one of these pieces of shit in every room, they have to have a place to live.

Why do we need one of these pieces of shit in every room anyway? So we can watch YouTube or American Idol?

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Insert Flap “A”: A Review of The Complete New Yorker

Posted on June 8, 2007. Filed under: Books, DRM, Humor, Main Stream Media, Software, Technology, The New Yorker |

I dithered for months about purchasing The Complete New Yorker on DVD. Although the concept was great, the product itself was a disappointment to many. Most of the criticisms focused on the excessive disk-swapping required to use the product. I knew that this would annoy me no end. The only other alternative was to purchase an external drive with all the content in one place. The New Yorker sells this item for about $200. If you buy the hard drive, however, I don’t think you get the book that comes with the DVDs. The DVD product sells in a retail store for $100, but if you are willing to wait several weeks, you can purchase it $30.00 on The New Yorker’s web site. If you do buy it there, they will throw in an update DVD as well.

I have read about ways to load the DVDs on to a hard drive that will save you the trouble of swapping DVDs. Since the method is undocumented, it’s not clear to me whether you can do this without violating the license agreement you agree to when you install the product. The license agreement brings up the topic of digital rights management.

The product’s packaging is handsome but flawed. For example, the book that accompanies the DVDs is glued to an cardboard cover (an uber cover?) that requires the reader to cart around the DVDs every time he wants to read the book. The book, it seems to me, ought to slide out of the set.

The DVD sleeve should slide out of the set, too. The DVDs are housed in a folder that is glued to the same uber outer cardboard cover as the book. There are two additional pieces of cardboard that come tucked into the folder. I guessed that they were there to stiffen the product and protect the DVDs. So I retained them. The problem is that they could slide out of the folder. If you are having trouble picturing them they are like those pieces of cardboard that the hand laundry inserts into your shirts. The only difference is that you don’t throw these away. But while you’re looking at the DVDs, what do you do with the two pieces of cardboard?

You could try to separate the book from the uber sleeve. If you do, you will notice that while the book does indeed come loose from the uber sleeve, it takes some of the cardboard from the uber sleeve with it, which is unattractive. You will also notice, if you have not already, that the book itself does not have a title printed on its spine, which will make it harder to identify when it is placed on a bookshelf. This leads to the inescapeable conclusion that the The New Yorker neither intended the book to stand alone nor contemplated that anyone might try to make it so.

I’m thinking out loud here but if the book and the sleeve were removable, in theory you could be left with an empty cardboard uber cover. What would you do with that? It’s attractively printed so I don’t think I would throw it away.

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Cool Inventions I wish existed…

Posted on May 22, 2007. Filed under: Technology |

Here’s a challenge for programming gurus: create an option to prevent an email from being forwarded or copied. Everyone would benefit from this innovation. How could it be accomplished?

A professional-grade digital camera that can send photos over high speed cellular phone connections. Right now, the cameras are small and primitive. Imagine what the benefit would be to photo journalists to have such an invention?

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Wading into the Linux World

Posted on May 22, 2007. Filed under: Linux, Software, Technology |

Over the past few weeks I have waded into the Linux world. One of the reasons is that I have an old laptop that I am loathe to throw away, if only for sentimental reasons. I thought that Linux might give the old machine a second life.

I downloaded Debian first. Later, I tried Ubuntu. Both are pretty similar. Both run slow as shit on my laptop. And I don’t think it’s the OS per se, either. It’s really the GUIs that slow the box down to the point where I wonder if I running Windows 2000. GNOME is a resource pig. What Linux really needs is a lightweight GUI. According to my understanding, the current GUIs, like KDE and GNOME, run on top of Xfree. In order to get the speed, a new system needs to be developed from scratch. And it needs to become a standard part of every major distro.

The whole point of these operating systems should be that they are superior to their alternatives. It’s not enough just to be free.

The stakes are pretty high. Revenues in hardware and software depend on our old machines being too slow to run new software. If the current trend continues a lot of older machines will have to be tossed. And it can’t be good for the environment to have all that plastic sitting in landfills. The Linux Community needs to address the needs for a lightweight GUI that is independent of xFree.

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Viacom Sues YouTube

Posted on March 14, 2007. Filed under: Main Stream Media, News, Technology |

Yesterday’s New York Times reported that Viacom sued YouTube for copyright infringement.

I have to admit that when I first heard about YouTube, I was pretty skeptical. I was thinking: “O.K. Short, grainy viedo clips of adolescents playing air guitar or some kinky couple boing boinging each other on a small screen? Do I really care?” At the time, I had only a dial-up connection. Then I got a broadband connection. And my eyes were opened. I was enlightened.

Yes, there are a lot of dreadful videos on YouTube. But there is a whole bunch of good stuff on there too. The problem is that a good portion of it may be copyrighted. It’s like the all-you-can-eat Beefsteak Charlie’s Shrimp Bar: when you get done piling up that tiny plate, you just go back for a second helping. In theory, you can consume until you are sick. I have seen full-length movies, cartoons, documentaries, and tv shows listed. I have to say that the selection is quite good.

YouTube is basically broken in its current form. Even if YouTube were to delete all the copyrighted content on its site that Viacom alleges is available, users might upload it again. Is there a filtering technology that could work? Would YouTube still be so popular without the copyrighted content? Will we have to tighten our belts and not consume so much web content? Would we be healthier if we did?

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Deep Blue vs. Kasparov Anniversary

Posted on March 8, 2007. Filed under: Chess, History, News, Technology |

This coming may will be the tenth anniversary of Gary Kasparov’s famous defeat to Deep Blue, a supercomputer designed specifically to beat him by a team of engineers and chess masters. I attended the famous match, which was held in the Equitable Center in New York City. I say I attended, but actually there were no spectators in the room with Kasparov and the computer: I watched the match on video in an auditorium with dozens of other people. If my memory serves me, Kasparov was startled by one particular move by Deep Blue, a move which seemed to be uncharacteristic of a computer. After Kasparov resigned he came down to the auditorium to speak. He basically accused the IBM team of cheating and coaching the computer to make a particular move. He said something that stuck in my memory: “he saw the hand of God.”

It would be interesting to learn what the state of the art is in chess programs today. Are they much better than they were ten years ago or are they just marginally so? Would Kasparov be willing to play another supercomputer? I am sure that were a rematch to be held today it would be streamed live on the Internet.

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  • Quotes of the Day

    "Writing editorials is like wetting your pants in a blue serge suit. It feels good, but nobody really notices."

    --Jack Germond

    "Famous men and women, by the act of putting themselves on display, whether as politicians, actors, writers, painters, musicians, restaurateurs, or whatever, invite public appraisal. They are all, impressively or pathetically, acting on the presumption that their ideas, their fantasies, their music, their bodies are more original than those of, say, a plumber or a certified public accountant. They are all exercising the impulse, as Mencken put it, ‘to flap their wings in public.’ This is so obvious to the critic–and, I believe, to the ordinary reader or spectator–that it seems hardly worth saying. But resentment of the practice of criticism itself is strong among professional artists (and all Presidents of the United States). There is a psychological type among them that hates critics on principle as parasites or failed performers. This is very natural but surely very childish and, in any country claiming to be civilized, actually anti-social. The existence of critics, good, bad, or indifferent, is a firm clause in the social contract between the governors and the governed in any nation that is not a dictatorship. Public figures should accept with good grace the public response to their invitations to be admired and resist the temptation to retort, except in the face of flagrant malice."

    --Alistair Cooke

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