March 29, 2003
Voice-Over DemosEver wonder who did the voices for those TV ads, radio spots, and movie trailers? Check out the list of men and
March 26, 2003
Amazon's Ad-Auction Patent ApplicationWaitaminnit. Amazon's trying to patent what? What about what MP3.com's ad auction stuff?
Brin on Google Not Going PublicGoogle's Sergey Brin cites his dislike for filling out forms as a reason Google's not going public any time soon.
Nice message to deliver to the employees with all those stock options.
March 25, 2003
Bumperstickers GaloreDave's friend's car is covered with bumperstickers. Great photos.
March 22, 2003
Being for the Benefit of Mr. TimCory goes ga-ga over the O'Reilly Emerging Technologies Conference that's coming up in April in Santa Clara, CA. He mentions that the conference folks have decided to cut the fees. Times are tough all over, I suspect. Reminds me of the please attend, please, we miss you, please oh please attend! beg-emails I've been getting from Esther's organization regarding PC Forum, which a few years ago was sold-out with over 600 attendees and this time they'll be lucky if they exceed 400.
But just look at the boosterism coming from Cory (who is on the conference committee): "Jesus Christ! We've got some amazing speakers coming this year! I mean mind-bogglingly amazing," says Cory. "I speak at a lot of conferences -- two or three a month, sometimes -- and the tech-bubble-collapse has really flensed away the fat from these shows. Gone are the empty suits with empty promises, leaving only really meaty technology, polkicy and business questions that are being addressed by smart, passionate novel thinkers whose accomplishments speak for themselves."
Whew. It goes on. Here's Cory again:
So who's speaking at the conference? The usuals. Rheingold, Kay, Shirky, Bonabeau, Drexler, Brewster Kahle, Weinberger, Meg Hourihan, and on and on. All very nice folks but you know what? The lineup strikes me as your basic Pundit Circus, next stop Santa Clara. How many of these people are really at the forefront of emerging technologies, getting their hands dirty working on real stuff rather than using these deductible junkets to express their unending stream of opinions on the latest techno sizzle? Hey look! A new toy! And it's shiny! Oh boy!
I'm not convinced this is an essential conference to attend. Oh, I'm sure we'll have lots of blog coverage, perhaps webcasting coverage, perhaps even dueling webcams like at Lessig's recent Stanford Law conference. And we'll no doubt have plenty of coverage of the parties, with lots of photos of the partiers partying like it's still 1999.
The whole thing reminds me of Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite off of Sgt. Pepper:
For the benefit of Mr. Tim
Have fun, techno-weenies, but I'm gonna skip this one.
March 20, 2003
TANSTAAFBInformation wants to be free. Information wants to be expensive.
Earthlink Complains About Motley Fool ArticleToday I received an email from Jeff Fischer of the Motley Fool. He wrote an article about my recent Amazon Purchase Circles humor article. Seems Earthlink, one of the companies I, and Jeff, mentioned, wasn't so happy:
I thought you'd be interested in the following thread. Earthlink complained
because Purchase Circles, it appears, can include customers. Amazon goes by
domain names in email, and zip codes, so Earthlink subs in Atlanta (their
HQ) may be on the Purchase Circle.
So, I removed Earthlink from our article. You may want to consider it as
well, as the purchase data may be in error.
I thought you'd be interested in the following thread. Earthlink complained because Purchase Circles, it appears, can include customers. Amazon goes by domain names in email, and zip codes, so Earthlink subs in Atlanta (their HQ) may be on the Purchase Circle.
So, I removed Earthlink from our article. You may want to consider it as well, as the purchase data may be in error.
Question is, was Earthlink more ashamed of the list of books that Amazon listed (and continues to list on their site), or the fact that the brianstorms blog had a SELL recommendation? Inquiring minds want to know.
Here's what Amazon told Jeff:
We then determine which items are more popular with each specific
group than with the general population. No personally identifiable
information is used to create Purchase Circle lists. As an additional
measure to ensure confidentiality, Amazon.com creates Purchase
Circles only when at least 200 Amazon.com customers are associated
with a particular group.
We then determine which items are more popular with each specific group than with the general population. No personally identifiable information is used to create Purchase Circle lists. As an additional measure to ensure confidentiality, Amazon.com creates Purchase Circles only when at least 200 Amazon.com customers are associated with a particular group.
Jeff apparently forwarded this to the Earthlink person who made the fuss, saying, "To my eye, it seems to suggest that some of your subscribers in your area MIGHT be included in your purchase circle." With that, he decided to pull the Earthlink section of the big chunk of my blog article that he'd published on Motley Fool.
Jeff suggests I remove Earthlink from my blog entry as well. I think I'll keep it in. It's a humor piece, as I clearly stated up front. I'm glad that people read it and that it raised questions about how exactly Amazon calculates things with their Purchase Circles feature. Oh, by the way, Amazon currently says the top three DVDs purchased in Earthlink's DVD Purchase Circle are: Moonstruck, Vertigo, and ... Caligula. Well, there you have it ladies and gentlemen.
Here's the thing: Purchase Circles came out on August 20, 1999. It was kind of a weird feature back then, and it remains one now. In fact, I challenge anyone to go to Amazon.com's homepage and navigate to the Purchase Circles section of the site, using only links found on Amazon's web pages. Good luck. I gave up. Instead I just went to Google and typed in "Amazon purchase circles" and presto.
Which brings up another thought: using Google to navigate other websites. More and more I hear people say they use Google's home page to go to other sites, rather than type in a URL into their browser's text input box. I find this interesting. I suspect part of it is that it makes at least part of the user experience the same for all websites --- rather than having to go to ten different sites to access ten particular features of those sites, having to wade through each site's distracting, NASCARized, monetized, animated, whizbang upsell messaging each time.
You might say, well, use Bookmarks. Bookmarks are so 90s imho. They don't scale well. I find them long-term storage: I create them all the time to remember places, but I don't use them for rapid access. There are too many. Bookmarks don't scale well.
And so Google becomes the gateway to other site destinations. I find I use it for this purpose quite often these days -- Google's my default browser page, so all new windows simply open to Google. If I want to go to a certain feature of some other website, I will often just type it into Google rather than go to that website and navigate through it to get to that feature. How many other people do this I wonder?
March 19, 2003
Michael Gruber at the Mysterious Galaxy
If you haven't heard of Michael Gruber yet, you will. He's the best-selling novelist who's just published his first novel. Yes, you heard that right: bestselling novelist with numerous New York Times Bestseller List triumphs under his belt, yet he is only this month coming out with his first novel.
See, Gruber has been an invisible man, the ghostwriter behind Robert K. Tanenbaum's series of thrillers for the past sixteen years. This fact had been kept secret from the mainstream public until just a few weeks ago, with the release of Tropic of Night (ToN), his first novel published under his own name.
At a lecture and book signing at the Mysterious Galaxy bookstore in San Diego last night, I found Gruber to be shy about mentioning his illustrious ghostwriting career, at least during his lecture. I sensed he was torn about talking about it: on the one hand, mention of the Tanenbaum connection clearly detracts attention away from ToN and the Gruber brand which he's now out trying to build. On the other hand, Gruber's a natural storyteller, and what a story he has to tell, about himself and Tanenbaum!
Interestingly, Gruber referenced Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, several times during his talk. One of ToN's characters was inspired in part by the hero of Ellison's book. There's a strange parallel between that hero and Gruber's own life story. Unable until this year to be his true self to the public, to speak publicly about his writing life, unable to do book signings as Robert K. Tanenbaum, having to deal with Tanenbaum talking on TV or in lectures or interviews about how he writes "his" books... think about living that kind of life for sixteen years. That's enough to drive anyone crazy.
No wonder Gruber found refuge online on The WELL, where for the past ten or so years he's hung out in the "writers" conference, telling us all about his real-life Ghostwriter v. "Fleshwriter" ordeal, discreetly keeping the Tanenbaum name out of the conversation. Everyone in the writers' conference knew, or found out eventually (it wasn't hard: at times Gruber would post notes announcing not one but two of his ghostwritten novels were on the NYT or Amazon bestseller lists at the same time), but they kept it a secret from the conference postings. Now, after all of these years, he emerges out into the world, kind of like (if you'll pardon the analogy) a grub having lived underground for seventeen years before climbing the tree and turning into a cicada. (Funny, guess what "tanenbaum" means in German.) It's as if the grub desperately wants to tell its own miraculous story of life underground; but nobody seems to care, they're here for the cicada. At the same time the cicada is enjoying its new metamorphosis.
Regulars in The WELL's "writers" conference have been privy to what amounts to nearly a daily blog of Gruber's writing life for the past ten years, the highs and lows, the victories, the defeats (well, mostly victories). There, we learned that the scary-looking dagger featured on the cover of ToN was actually something Gruber found on the Bows of Wood website, where artist and craftsman Vinson Miner makes and sells a line of what one might call organic weapons. The dagger is made of a sharpened obsidian blade with a handle made of the jaw of a lion.
In fact the most recent of the writers' conference's "brag" topics (where for years WELL writers have proudly and openly "bragged" about their accomplishments, followed by the obligatory cheers from other writers), has in a way been co-opted by Gruber over the past year. I don't for a moment think he's done it intentionally, but one of his brags would, shall we say, be enough to put food on the table for a dozen or more other WELL writers for quite a long time. Everyone remains polite and supportive, but there's an unspoken understanding that Gruber is now, compared to everyone else there, a genuine superstar. Each and every posting of his in that topic is like yet another rung up the literary ladder of success. It's been a remarkable journey to witness. It must be extraordinary to finally, after all these years, be able to emerge with your own fame in public. He's earned it.
One of Vinson Miner's knives.
There were some sixteen folding chairs arranged in three rows around a podium in this modest little bookstore. There were perhaps twelve people in the audience, including myself. I couldn't tell how many had read the book already: it was a weird crowd. Thriller/occult geeks, seemed to me, all of them middle aged. Remember the way Garth of Wayne's World 2 said "Unix! Kewl!"? I had no difficulty imagining the Trekkie-like members of this crowd going, "Occult suspense shamanistic ritual horror novel! Kewl!". I could be wrong...
Gruber wore a black jacket, black shirt, and blue jeans. He resembled a mix of Rod Steiger, Jean Reno, an older Bruce Willis, and a bespectacled Colonel Kurtz as played by Marlon Brando. He spoke in an East Coast (perhaps born in New York?) accent.
He dove right in talking about what inspired him to write ToN. Which I thought was an odd thing for him to do, since he hadn't checked who in the audience was already familiar with the book (I haven't read it yet, in fact, I've never read anything under the Tanenbaum name either; in fact, I'd have never heard of Tanenbaum if it hadn't been for the Writers conference on The WELL). Nevertheless, the story of how this novel came about goes way back, appropriately to a time long before he began ghostwriting, all the way back to the early 70s, when Gruber was in Miami pursuing a PhD in Marine Biology. He'd grown up wanting to live the life of Jacques Cousteau: "I wanted to make my living in a bathing suit," he said. While in Bimini in 1972, he was bitten by an octopus. It was that experience that led him to meet a woman that helped inspire ToN. She told him strange tales of shamans, rituals, and sorcery. Interestingly, Gruber felt it necessary to start the novel with a disclaimer, where while he acknowledges the book is fiction, he nevertheless gives credit to "J.H." for the inspiration.
The marine biology career didn't pan out. "I was a crummy scientist," he admitted. So he became a cook, "Dr. Cook," he says they called him. Then he did "government work", eventually leading to the ghostwriting gig.
"What I'm interested in is the deeply weird," Gruber told the small audience last night. Not abducted-by-aliens weird, but the feeling-of-someone-following-you kind of weird. The sense that there's a presence in the room when no-one else is there. "The world is not quite what scientists make of it," he says. "The world of the psyche is just as real as the world of quarks and stars, only science can't quite grab it."
He likes to push people's "ontological buttons." He spoke of beliefs of science versus psyche. From his perspective at the podium, he told how he could see the walls at the back of the bookstore opening up, and there revealed beyond the opening was the skyline of Miami. He noted that no-one in the audience turned around to confirm what Gruber said he saw, because of "an absolute faith that I'm bullshitting you." Everyone laughed.
After the talk, which concluded with a cheery "Thank you! Buy my book!" exhortation from Gruber, he signed copies of his book that everyone had bought. There were only a dozen or so people and no-one seemed to want to form a line, so people simply hovered around, casually taking turns having their books signed. One guy, shown in the photo below, had him sign two copies of ToN, and then two copies of another book, Killer Books: A Readers Guide to Exploring the Popular World of Mystery and Suspense by Jean Swanson and Dean James. The first couple of pages inside the front of these books were literally covered with autographs of, one assumes, famous mystery and suspense writers. When Gruber saw what the book was, he excitedly told the guy, you know what, let me tell you a secret.... Gruber quickly leafed through the table of contents and, not fiding what he was looking for, went to the back of the book and quickly scanned through the index, obviously looking on each page for the beginning of the T section. Nothing. I could swear Gruber was surprised.
Maybe Tanenbaum has finally become the ghost.
March 18, 2003
Slashdot Effect in ProgressWhew, the power of syndication. I'd forgotten that Fool articles show up at Yahoo Finance. Seems everyone in the world is seeing the Fool article over at Yahoo.
More on Amazon Purchase CirclesJeff Fischer has just written an article at the Motley Fool site about my March 8th article about AMZN Purchase Circles.
March 17, 2003
Pitch ThisVenture capitalist Tim Draper wants you to pitch your idea to him. As if he's going to fund anything that gets posted as a response (scroll down on that AlwaysOn page to see the ideas that have been pitched).
Some of the brilliant ideas he's looking for include, and I quote:
As someone once said, "Well, duh."
March 16, 2003
Glad That's Over WithFinished migrating the blog to MovableType. I will continue to tweak this or that setting over the next week or so, as I try different things out and get used to this software and the zillion CSS settings. If you find any problems, and I'm sure there are bound to be some, let me know.
March 13, 2003
Throbbing ThursdayWelcome, Visitors
Judging from all the traffic showing up in the logs, it's time for a hearty welcome to all those MP3.com employees who keep visiting this humble blog. Oh, to be a fly on the wall of a certain internal-company message board right about now. :-)
Free Dumb Fries
March 12, 2003
Wednesday FindingsUnderground Restaurants
Janelle Brown, a contributing writer for Salon.com, has a great article in today's New York Times about "underground restaurants" that open irregularly in people's living rooms, basements, and other unconventional locations. Fascinating information.
Imagine if the people who operate such sneaky "restaurants" started using meetup or something like it. You could visit a list of the kinds of foods you like, and see who's gonna be cooking them in your area. When enough people have signed up, the host sets a date and away they go, with a great dinner.
This goes back to the battle-of-the-fans idea I blogged about a while back: using the Net to gauge the demand for goods and services. For example, I would love to see "Lawrence of Arabia" in 70mm restored widescreen glory. I'm willing to pay, oh, $10 or $15 to see it in a really nice theatre, something like The Arclight in L.A. So where can I go on the Net and indicate my level of interest in seeing a theatrical presentation of it, within a certain geographical area and timeframe and ticket price?
Texaco Station Charges $4.29 A Gallon
March 11, 2003
Tues MiscThe State of the Computer Game Industry
Thanks to Ceej for the reference to an interesting essay by Greg Costikyan on the state of the gaming industry and the mood of the recent Computer Game Developers Conference.
Obsessive Baby Blogs
March 08, 2003
Purchase Circles as Stock Buy/Sell Guide!?What They're Reading, or, A Humorous Guide to What Stocks to Buy
I find Amazon.com's Purchase Circles an interesting gauge of what's on the mind of the employees of various companies, as an additional insight into these companies. Especially interesting when the companies are in distress, or their stock is tanking, or they're undergoing layoffs, or all three...
Check out the Brianstorms Portfolio with stock recommendations solely based on what I find in the Purchase Circles!
March 07, 2003
March 06, 2003
The Attack of the Giant Chee-toGiant Chee-to
First there was the Huge Monster Chee-to someone put on eBay. That started an explosion of related items, ranging from 1 Photo of My Cat Looking At Legendary Cheeto (currently going for $10,100,100.00) to Support Big Cheetos T-Shirts to a giantcheeto.com domain name auction to ... well, go look at the list. There's also a story at CNN.
March 05, 2003
Spam and ChannelsSpambot Stopper
This may be an oldie for some, but I just heard of it. The spambot stopper. There, that should keep the bots busy for a while.
UPDATE 1613PST: It seems that some of the Classical Music Channel pages still exist, but I suspect this is just because MP3 wasn't thorough in its cleanup efforts. However, none of the streaming seems to work anymore, even though the M3U files get sent to your mp3 player --- the MP3.com servers send out no actual stream, as far as I can tell.
March 04, 2003
Various for TuesdayDon't You Think I KNOW That!?
Having recently purchased the DVD of The Doomsday Machine I was rather amused by Likek's choice of 404 Not Found error page.
Fun With Whitehouse.gov Search Results