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Saturday, January 29, 2005

Sony Media Downloads for PSP

The Register says, via Gizmodo, that Sony will launch a media download service in March, coinciding with the introduction here of its Playstation Portable. Gizmodo opines that the PSP is the true "Sony iPod", and the company's best chance of catching up with Apple in terms of popularity and so on. I agree.

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Thursday, January 27, 2005

Not Only for Fans of Apple

I was just perusing the Unofficial Apple Weblog when I came across a pointer to the video archive of Gary Grey, Associate Professor of Engineering Science and Mechanics at Penn State. Professor Grey has put together what from all appearances is every Apple commercial ever aired, including an enhanced version of Scott Ridley's famous 1984 piece, which was shown only once, during the 1984 Super Bowl.

Among the other cool ads was one featuring a young Bill Gates heaping praise on the Mac.

The most interesting video of all, however, isn't a commercial. It's the only surviving footage of a boyish, beaming Steve Jobs, introducing the world to the Mac, in January, 1984. As you watch, keep in mind that this is the first time most anyone had seen a personal computer, much less one with a graphical interface - much less one that could talk. This video is really a significant find. Here it is. (It's a big file, so be patient.)

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Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The Three Screens Problem

Om Malik has an interesting piece on his weblog, about the "three screens" - TV, computer, handheld - and how and whether they might merge.
"Walk into any Silicon Valley gathering and all you’ll hear is one person after another pontificating on 'the three screens that dominate our digital lives.' The three screens, of course, are television, the personal computer, and the cell phone, which these same people then posit will merge. One cannot blame the chattering classes for thinking along these lines. After all, phones can display webpages, crusty cable companies are beaming more of their stuff digitally, and affordable HDTV plasma screens display it all with great acuity. There’s only one problem: Companies are thinking about it all backward."
The rest of Om's article can be found here.

The problem as Om poses it, is that the three screens are so very different from each other in size and in purpose, that they pretty much exclude having a shared use. The solution he proposes is to develop a media content model expressly suited for mobile - something that will fit nicely on a small, low-res screen that you don't have very much time (or inclination) to look at. My response (which I posted in slightly different form on his blog) follows.

That title, "The Three Screen Problem" - sounds like an ancient Taoist riddle. :) But I disagree with the problem as you pose it. And the solution you propose - a parallel content model expressly for mobile - I also respectfully disagree with. It was just such a model - and the same presumption of static paradigms - that led to the dead end that is WAP.

To see the three screens as being discrete assumes that their form and their content offerings are also discrete and unchanging - three separate paradigms forever resigned to remaining so. But in fact the whole point is to see how the developing technology might allow the paradigms to shift and merge. And the way that might happen is this:

A larger screen on the wall at home implies considerable leisure time and potential group use. Its very nature excludes mobility.

A somewhat smaller screen on your desk at the office implies time spent there doing serious work, and also excludes mobility.

A portable screen, on your handheld and/or as an adjunct to the handheld, is obviously intended for use while on the go.

Now suppose your handheld has some sort of TiVo-like capability - a kind of RSS feed for video. In that case, you can select what you watch according to what is appropriate at a given time. Probably you're not going to start watching 2001: A Space Oddysey on your mobile while standing in line to buy movie tickets. Instead, you might call up the news or a music vid. During a longer wait, though, you might very well start watching that film.

Say you're at the beach, on a plane, or sitting on a train during a long commute. In those cases you might naturally pull out the roll-up or fold-away OLED screen (maybe it measures 5 X 7) and watch an entire movie, or a TV episode. You might even dispense with the larger screen altogether and just use the regular screen.

And the reason why you might feel comfortable doing this is that the resolution and sound quality of the device as I envision it is quite high. And as those things improve, along with the content available for them, the paradigm of film and video changes, from a primarily communal activity, to one that is primarily individual, like reading a book is now.

When that happens, you will still have your screen on the wall at home and the screen on the desk at work, because these are best suited for their environments. But the content will be shared between the three screens, depending on where you are. That's how I see all this happening.

I can even see how, at home, you might find you're not in the mood for the large wall screen, and instead choose to curl up in a corner, to watch something on your handheld.

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Aubrey de Grey and the Science of Living

It's late and this is probably not the time to start what I know will be a lengthy rant and rave - but I want to post something here every day, or close to it - and it's already past midnight, so yesterday was missed. Anyway, this past Monday I finally got around to reading the cover story in February's Technology Review - and I've been thinking about it ever since.

Technology Review ("The oldest technology magazine in the world") is usually among the better popular science publications and one of the few magazines I often read. It's publisher - and hence the magazine - is owned by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The cover story this month, called, "Do You Want to Live Forever?", by one Sherwin Nuland, is about Cambridge scientist Aubrey de Grey, and his work on extending the human life span.

I was shocked by this article, and by the editor's introduction of it. Shocked and disappointed. For what has been written here clearly has nothing to do with science, and everything to do with a philistine hatchet job. And from MIT, no less.

Anyway, now that I have that off my chest, I'm going to get some shuteye and return to this tomorrow to back it up. In the meanwhile, I just found the article on de Grey online here. You read it, and decide for yourself if it isn't mean-spirited and narrow. Also, though I haven't read it yet, I found de Grey's reply here.

I've half a mind not to read it until I post my own reply, just to see how close mine is to de Grey's. He'll probably be more gracious than I.

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Monday, January 24, 2005

iPod Shuffle Sad; SanDisk Audio Player Glad

iPod Shuffle issues: the main one being that we hear too much about it. But sometimes it can't be helped.

If Enjoy Uncertainty is something more than a marketing slogan to you, then you're probably not too keen on iPod Shuffle's DRM restrictions. And maybe, like me, you're not very happy about the prospect of throwing your flash player away, when the battery dies in a year's time. It's true, Life is Random, but good design shouldn't be.

SanDisk, the favorite memory card maker of every photographer I know (yours truly included) has recently released a trio of flash players that should have the iPod Shuffle shuffling on down the block.

SanDisk Digital Audio Player: 1 GB Capacity $139.99
Besides the 1 GB player pictured above, there are also 512 MB and 256 MB versions available. All these devices feature the following:And, of course, you can use these as mass storage devices, too. If you (the photographer) are out in the field and find yourself running short on memory, you can dump the tunes and upload some images to the device. So here we have a device that is elegant and simple to operate, like the iPod Shuffle, yet far more fully featured and lower in price.

Remember when you were a kid and you wanted something that was really cool, you thought, but your dad made you buy something practical instead? In this case, anyway, your dad is right. And that may be the coolest thing of all.

The image is swiped, as you may have noticed, from B&H Photo (they also sell audio), along with the pricing. Their MP3 players, including the one above, can be found here. I have no connection with B&H, other than as a long term customer. I always buy my photo gear from them, and they do a great job.

DISCLAIMER (1/27/05): I found this device, and reached these (obvious) conclusions, all on my own - only to find, much to my chagrin, that Dave Ciccone, at Dave's iPaq, had done exactly the same thing . . . only, two days earlier. Grrrr . . . .

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Sunday, January 23, 2005

Sony PSP Link Fest

PSP with Digital Camera Attachment

Had so much fun with my previous PSP post, thought I'd do a little more digging. Can't wait to get my hands on one of these things. Meanwhile, here are some PSP links.

PSP Forum

PSP Player

PSP Rumors


PSPwiki (in Japanese)

GameSpy: PSP - Everything We Know

ExtremeTECH: PSP Specs slideshow captures

PortaGame: PSP Pictures

PSP News from GameWinners.com

And while this may come as old news to some (the following post was made on Jan. 8), according to Gaming Horizon, you'll soon be able to watch TV on your PSP.

Last, but certainly not least, Ryan McGrory's excellent PSP Centre at Yahoo Groups.

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Friday, January 21, 2005

Side Talkin' Sony PSP

Actually, I doubt it'll be side talkin'. Russell Beattie has an entry on his weblog about the Sony PSP. This is a device that has fascinated me (along with the rest of the world) ever since I first heard about it. Anyway, the piece discusses the PSP as a mobile computing platform.

I did a little digging after reading this and found out, through a site called Joystiq, that Sony has just confirmed the PSP will be mobile phone capable - apparently through an adjunct attachment of some sort. Also, it will have a web browser built in.

Sony is still noncommital about a keyboard for the PSP. But recent rumors about a word processing beta - as well as, possibly, this mockup - indicate that one might be in the offing.

So, let's see, what do we have here? Games, both single-player and, thanks to on board Wi-Fi, multi-player; movies; music; internet; telephony. You can easily imagine other software apps being written, such as photo storage and viewing, and chat. Clearly, then, we have in the PSP a converged handheld device that will be more powerful than anything else available, at anywhere near the price (reportedly $150-200 when it hits the U.S. in March).

Play-asia.com has some great pics of the PSP and its accessories, as well as tons of PSP videos, here. And if you live in North America and just can't wait, you can buy one now, from eXpansys, at a slight premium :)- Japanese version only.

Do you think Sony will do the logical, wise, ambitious thing, and offer Sony owned media preformated onto PSP disks? I'm thinking Sony Pictures, Columbia, TriStar - and whatever else they own.

Thanks, Russ, for inspiring me to talk about my favorite device upcoming.

Final PSP Links:

Kotaku talks about expensive ($250) bags for the PSP, being offered on Sony's Playstation Japan site. (The metrosexual styling, high price - and little rainbow tag - should make these pretty popular here in San Francisco. Personally, I'd rather have a second PSP.)

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Thursday, January 20, 2005

Chair sells you a license to sit, deploys spikes on expiry

I see Boing Boing is discussing a new beta concept. A chair that offers you an opportunity to sit. Don't want to pay? Stand up, it's a free country!

What do you think? I think it'll be huge, especially in the public space. This idea will bring entrepreneurial energy and funding to the formerly socialist sphere of civic life. This equals more and better facilities for responsible citizens. Freeloaders take note! Link.

DRM. Bringing you bright ideas for a better future.TM

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Haven't posted here in a couple of days - preoccupied with personal business. And in any case, I think I need a more wide ranging blog concept, if I'm going to post every day. I love tech, but finding something worthwhile to discuss each day takes too much time.

Maybe that's why I woke up with the idea of starting a new blog. I was going to call it Kanoodle - but that name is apparently already used by some would be rival to Google.

So I have to come up with another name. Something whimsical, that could pertain to a broader interest weblog.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

iPod Shuffle Dissection

Tired of hearing about the iPod Shuffle yet? If not - or, maybe, especially if you are - applematters.com has taken matters in hand with a piece by piece dissection of the simple little beast. It's bloody, and you can see it here. Via MobileWhack.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Nokia Eviscerates Multimedia R&D

"Nokia is reining in R&D, with the axe falling hardest on its 3,000-strong multimedia division founded a year ago," reports Andrew Orlowski in The Register. "In a statement, Nokia's multimedia chief Anssi Vanjoki said that while imaging was doing well, 'games, music and media are still in a more early development phase'. The division is responsible for the N-Gage games console."

Responsible for the N-Gage? Well, I guess that explains things, doesn't it?

I mean, really, how utterly idiotic can a company be? At the very time Microsoft is forming a beachhead in handheld media - announcing its incipient flat-rate media download service for handheld devices - Nokia is cutting back on multimedia R&D.

Rrecently I read an interview, given to the Register this past July, with Colly Myers, former CEO of Symbian and the primary creator of the OS. This interview was actually quite revealing, in that it showed the kind of thinking that lay behind the Symbian smartphone. Thinking that discounts any real possibility of the converged device being anything more than a wrong-headed effort, or maybe a marketing gimmick.

On putting a web browser on the phone, Myers had this to say:

You could have a 640 by 480 screen and have the same content available even if you messed about with it but it's still not the right metaphor for a phone. You want a lot of things you can get on the Internet on your phone translated as a service, piece by piece.

And on the smartphone concept, this:

You know, I used to think you could convert a lot of things to work well on the phone, but I'm older and wiser, I think. For example, making a phone a browser and an mp3 player. Each of those things are a lesser thing and you end up with what we call a 'spork' - you end up with a spoon and a fork. It's no good as a spoon and no good as a fork, but it's got both things.

The reality is that trying to push everything into everything just doesn't make sense. We'll see an unfolding of more things like the iPod - focused at a particular consumer solution.

So much for the smartphone. From the father of Symbian.

Sometimes companies do well and dominate a market because they are full of bright, creative people and are well run (IBM, for example); sometimes, companies do well and dominate a market because they're aggressive and clever about business (Microsoft). Every once in awhile, a company comes along that grabs the lion's share of market and appears to be destined for great things - solely on account of having gotten there before anyone else. Competitors play catch up, and, having caught up, leave the pioneer in the dust. This, I think, will be the case with Symbian. And maybe with Nokia, as well, since Symbian is such a big part of who they are.

I always hate it when someone or some company snatches defeat from the jaws of victory.

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Saturday, January 15, 2005

Goodbye Geekiness, Hello Hip

"Apple has an absolute monopoly on the asset that is the most difficult for competitors to copy: cool," points out the New York Times, via Taipei Times.
Apple has US$6.4 billion in cash, a seemingly small sum next to Microsoft's $64 billion. But it is Microsoft, the poor little rich kid, who must be envious of Apple. All of the billions in its corporate treasury, all of the personal billions of the co-founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen, all of the money in the world, cannot buy the ability to fathom the metaphysical mystery of cool.
It's a neat trick, to make money hand over fist and still be hip. To run a successful company (two, actually) and still be, for many people, the avatar of cool. To force your customers to send in their iPod units for battery replacement - and gain 70%+ market share. To sue your fan sites and be forgiven it. To market products as social station signifiers and not be called an asshole.

Still, I have to hand it to him - Steve and the Mac are cool. No irony intended.

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Searching for a New Search Engine

I just discovered Icerocket. Icerocket is a new search engine ("Where every search is a direct hit!") that has some nice, innovative features. One I like in particular is that your search results include a thumbnail of each website on the list (you can turn this off if you want), and also a "quickpeek" feature. When you click on "Quickpeek" a little Java window opens on the search page, allowing you to peruse the contents of a site right in the search results list, without having to open the site. Pretty neat.

The search page has links for various kinds of searches: Web, Blogs, Phone Pics (search among pics people have put on line from their phones), News, and Find a Friend (searches among dating/matching sites). Another feature: a scrolling scan, in real time, of search terms people are using in Icerocket. Enlightening.

I've been looking at new search engines recently. (See my earlier post about the interesting engine called "Clusty".) For years I've relied on Google. But Google just keeps getting scarier. Especially since they launched their Desktop Search feature.

Think about this. With the Desktop Search, combined with Gmail, Google now has the capability to add to its database everything you've ever put on your hard drive (such as, potentially, passwords, banking info, purchases you've made on the web, credit card and bank account numbers, social security number, drivers license, etc.), your search history over an indefinite period, as well as your name, address, phone number, and the contents of your email. All that personal data seems like a high price to pay for search.

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Friday, January 14, 2005

Future Fone - Part II. Basic Questions and Killer Apps

I think the most basic question we have to ask regarding this future fone is what kind of operating system it will use. Remember that we're only talking five to ten years out.

For a platform that will serve as your main general computer - with the processing power, RAM, and storage of, at the very least, today's desktops - is something like the Symbian OS a viable possibility? Symbian has great utility for small, flash based devices of relatively low power. That's the whole point of this OS. But it's obvious that, when it comes to devices with the specs and functionality of today's PC, Symbian is not the OS best suited.

As the PC transitions into this new form, it seems pretty clear that it will take with it, in some way, one or all of its three current operating systems: Windows, Linux, and, maybe, Mac. So my first prediction is that Nokia will abandon Symbian and the consortium will dissolve. Maybe not in five years but definitely in less than ten.

The thing that will drive the development of this technology is obviously applications. Among them, increased internet usage from the mobile, including the development of Virtual Private Networks, first for companies, then for the home. Also, video and TV. Maybe the device will have functionality similar to the TiVo.

And then there is GPS. Right now you can use your smartphone for GPS - in conjunction with a GPS receiver. Is there any reason why, in the very near future, that receiver couldn't be built right into the fone?

The truly killer app, though, may be this: Eventually I think we'll see carriers getting into the credit business, or partnering with credit card companies. In South Korea they're already doing something like this, and it adds a whole new profit center to the carrier's portfolios.

In other words, your fone will become your wallet, maybe even your pocket change. How difficult would it be, I wonder, to put this technology in place? You step on to a bus and run your fone across a scanner, which then issues a receipt. At grocery and clothing stores, at restaurants and theaters - pretty much at the entire retail level - this could be made to happen, and quickly. (Those who are old enough might remember when IBM's barcode scanning technology appeared, in the space of a few weeks, at most retail outlets.) Doing this will necessitate entire industries getting on the bandwagon for it. But IBM has already shown it can be done.

As for the word "fone"? This is what I propose as a generic name for these devices. Is that lame? Just as with today's smart mobile handhelds - even more so - its use as a "phone" will be only a small part of what it does (even though most of its functions will depend on telephony) - and yet, as they do now, people will persist in calling it that. Why fight it? Since it really isn't a phone anymore - but people will say it is - let's call it "fone" - to differentiate it from yesterday's phone - and be done with it. You heard it here first.

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Future Fone

In their May 2004 issue, Popular Science published a series of short articles that speculated on the state of various technologies ten years hence. One of these articles, by Mark Frauenfelder, caught my eye because its subject was the mobile phone (See This PDA is a Real Pocket PC.) and it addressed everything I'd been thinking about at the time. (There was a terrific concept drawing on the cover, but it doesn't seem to be present on the web. The image above is from somewhere else.) The thrust of the piece was that, ten years out, your mobile will be a do-anything device, and a strong compliment to your PC.

In fact I'd go further and say that, ten years out, your mobile will be your PC. And I for one can't wait.

The other day we were talking about something related to this, on Russell Beattie's weblog. The question at hand was, what application or capability could be added to a smartphone that would transform it from your mobile device, to your use-all-the-time device? In other words, what would it take to make your phone the first device you go to in most situations, whether out and about, at home, or at work? The following is based on what I came up with in the discussion.

I think the way to arrive at a phone that isn't context dependent, is to make it a device that serves well in all contexts. You walk into your house, phone in pocket, and it automatically connects, through some sort of Bluetooth connection, with the waiting monitor, keyboard, mouse, and optical drive. Maybe it connects with your audio system, too, in case you want music. Call coming in? No problem. The volume level of the music goes down and you answer, using a Bluetooth device nestled discreetly behind your ear.

Next morning, you leave for work. In the car your calls are handled hands-free, and your audio is sourced out of the device, also via Bluetooth. If you're taking the train and have some time, you catch up on the news, browse the internet, or watch a movie short. Afterwards maybe you make some notes, using it like a PDA. If you need to get some real work done, out comes the larger fold-away OLED screen, and, input device - a keyboard, maybe.

When you arrive at work, as you step into the office your device links up with the network, and maybe also with the phone system, if there still needs to be one. You sit down at your desk which has its own monitor and so on.

Voila, context free. Simple! And the best part about this scenario, is that you never have to think about any of this stuff, it just works when you need it to.

How far away are we from the scenario I describe above? Closer than some might think.

To arrive at full functionality on the device will require, as implied above, widespread implimentation of Virtual Private Networks. It makes sense that you'd have one for work and one for home and toggle between the two in order to keep them discrete.

And while you could envision a device that has voluminous storage capacity, I'm not sure such a thing would be necessary given sufficient bandwidth. In an ultra-broadband world it might make more sense to have your data reside elsewhere and interact with it when needed. You'd need some storage on the device, for those times when your connection is down (such as in a tunnel), but not more than a few gigs.

So I think, based on this, that we could see such devices (and such bandwidth) beginning to appear in five years or so. Certainly less than ten. Then give it another five years for additional development, buildout, and adoption, and there you are.

You can do something close to this now. Really, much of it is a question of habit and motivation level. If you *want* to acquire an advanced mobile device and use it for as much as possible - and if your work doesn't *depend* on carrying a notebook - you can actually get quite a lot done with it, all day long. Things like Vulcan Ventures' upcoming FlipStart should make it even easier.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2005

A "Just One More Thing" CEO for Symbian?

In an article over at All About Symbian that addresses the upcoming desparture of the OS consortium's CEO, David Levin, Ewan Spence looks at Macworld and says, in part
Irrespective of Apple's volume of sales, or number of users, the amount of buzz generated yet again showed Apple punching with the big boys. But not the biggest. With only 14 million OSX users, they're outnumbered almost 2 to 1 by Symbian OS devices. So why can't Symbian generate the same sort of excitement? Cutting edge phones, wi-fi, music devices, every ingredient to make the gadget-hounds salivate is in the OS.

Fairly or unfairly, I'm going to put this down to the CEO. David Levin (and to a certain extent Colly Myers before him) have done a good job taking what was a division of Psion (Psion Software) and grown it to the size it is today. That's a lot of management, guidance and care. But Symbian is past the forming stage, and needs to start storming. Symbian needs passion, needs energy and needs all that to be projected outside of the walls of Symbian and into the general public, the tech heads, and every electronics company this side of Redmond.

We need some dynamic, entertaining, captivating personality that people want to follow and be inspired by. The Board and The Managers (and to a certain extent the senior staff) of Symbian know exactly what is needed code wise. It's time to choose someone who complements these skills, not duplicates them.

My Take On It

The Steve Jobs "just one more thing" act reminds me of James Brown - you know, where at the end of his show his muscians try repeatedly to pull him off stage and he keeps returning to the microphone for more. It was great showbiz when Brown did it in his day, and it's great showbiz now, when Jobs does it.

But let's face it, you're not going to pull a Jobs-like personna out of thin air to head up Symbian. It's not going to happen. Steve Jobs is something of a unique character, and his relationship to Apple, and how he got back there, is unique. The whole Jobs phenomenon is grown organically out of Apple and inseparable from it.

Gil Amelio, former CEO of Apple and the man who brought Jobs back, has never, in my view, received the credit he deserves. Knowing how terribly territorial, image conscious, and ego driven senior executives by nature are, it took real vision and guts for Amelio to do this; the equivilent of throwing yourself on a live hand grenade in order to save the company. Bringing Jobs back was the right and only thing to do - but most CEOs would take the ship down into the briny dark rather than willingly step off the plank to save it.

Vision and Courage. Or, at the Least, Marketing Skills

This is why it's going to be difficult to pull off success for Symbian. As a consortium, Symbian requires not only that its leader have vision and courage, but also that those who lead its member companies have similar courage - and similar vision. At the very least, Symbian requires a leader who can sell whatever vision he has to the heads of these member companies. And him (or her), I think, Symbian has some reasonable prospect of finding.

As Apple amply demonstrates, branding really is everything, or almost everything. Making a quality product is important, but without deep brand awareness it means nothing. A company like Apple can sail along on its brand equity for a good long time. The hoopla and excitement generated by a stripped down computer and a flash player without a screen is a perfect example of this. They'll sell millions of them.

Nokia. Powered by Symbian OS

The synergy created by, for example, "Nokia, Powered by Symbian OS", could be amazing. The real question - assuming you have a leader who can pull it off - is how to get there.

Apple leveraged its deserved popularity among creative types - designers, architects, artists, and others - to give itself the halo of rightousness it has today. Similarly, Symbian could conceivably take stock of its own strengths as an OS to generate cache among users and prospective users.

It seems to me that two of Symbian's major strengths are its efficiency at utilizing resources, and the ease of writing applications for it. These strengths would seem to point to IT managers, who respect such things. Why not select a group of high profile IT managers and give them handsets to play with? This could generate some buzz in the IT world.

Business People and Artists?

Since Symbian has virtually written the book on convergence - been a pioneer there - it could also have great appeal as a brand - greater than it has today - to non-tech users, such as business people and even artists.

I'm actually a professional photographer, and I find the ability to use a handheld device for multiple functions very useful and interesting. It means a lot to me to have a device - one always with me - that I can use as a camera.

Some Ideas and the Bottom Line

For some time now I've been thinking that it would be great to take, say, a Nokia 6630 or Sony Ericsson S700, on a year long, round the world photo shoot. Symbian and one of its licensees could give serious thought to sponsering something like this among several photographers or travelers. Maybe co-sponser it with someone like Lonely Planet, and feature the results, as they happen, on a website. Such a project could create lots of excitement at very little cost.

Another possibility is to give handsets to interested, high-profile artists - maybe produce a magazine and/or art shows, demonstrating what they've produced using the devices.

These are just a few, maybe naive, ideas. In any event, they put the details way ahead of the broad-brush need for branding and a leader with the vision to see it and make it happen. In an increasingly Microsoft world - and that's the one we live in, like it or not - this is what it's going to take. It's all or nothing. Link.

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First there was Firefox, and now: Clusty

As more people are finding out, Mozilla Firefox is a fine replacement for Windows Explorer. Great functionality, and no more worries - or fewer, at least - about security holes. Well, what Firefox has done for browsing, Clusty is about to do for search.

For some time now I've been concerned, off and on, about Google regarding privacy - you know, data mining, long term profiling, that 2038 cookie of theirs, and so on. Andrew Orlowski's Register article, and the links there, just brought all this back to me. I started thinking that maybe it's time to find a new search engine.

Fortunately there was a good one at hand. Daniel Brandt mentions Clusty on his site Google Watch, as a better alternative to Google. (Of course, Brandt thinks *anything* is an alternative to Google, but the key here is *better*, so I thought I'd try it.)

Gusty posts search results in clusters off to the left of the screen. If you don't like the main results you're given, you can check out one or more of these clusters.

Another feature - one I really like - is that you can create customized tabs. I've already created mine: News, Images, Encyclopedia, Blogs, and Mega Search. This last tab I called Mega Search because Clusty lets you choose your own search engines for some of the custom tabs, and since they all looked good I chose all of them.

Clusty is in beta right now. It's maybe not as fast as Google, but it's plenty fast enough. It seems to utilize good search algorithms and has some neat features. What I like best about it, though, is that I don't have the Google Big Brother eyeball staring back at me. Not through my PC screen, anyway. Clusty is already set as my homepage.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2005

The Apple iProduct

Half the world is experiencing its annual fit of Apple hysteria due to Macworld. And the other half is playing along - in the effort, maybe, to win friends and draw blog traffic. I don't want to spoil anyone's fun or wreck the game - but I just don't see anything that exciting here. Look at the Mac Mini.

A slow, stripped down CPU - no screen, no keyboard, no mouse - and proprietary RAM that costs several dear body parts. I don't think so.

The flash player - what's it called? - iPod Shuffle - isn't this flash player idea a little long in the tooth already? For a company like Apple, I mean?

Life is random. So is innovation, apparently.

Anyone who owns a stereo capable smartphone can put a 512 MB card in it - or even 1 GB. And within a year more and more people will be doing that.

Lots of people - especially Mac fans - forgive Apple all sins. I think that's because the company staved off the Microsoft monster even as everyone assumed it couldn't. Apple should be dead now. That it isn't dead is attributable only to Steve Jobs. People know that and like him for it. Me, too. But Jobs and his company are also admired for the outstanding, innovative products they make from time to time. That's what we look to Apple for.

Now that they're no longer "poor", it's time to stand up and deliver. They have billions. Apple gets, essentially, a free ride from Microsoft because the latter needs, needs desperately, to maintain a semblance of competition - and a niche player like Apple is perfect for that.

It's a disappointment when a company like Apple announces nothing innovative amid lots of hoopla. This is what's called trading on brand equity. Let's hope they don't trade on it too long. Link.

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Sunday, January 09, 2005

The Serpent's Wall

Here is a site that turns the so called "grand sweep of history" directly into the personal and poignant. Authored by Elena, Serpent's Wall is the story of a fortification first built to protect her hometown, Kiev, from Mongel invaders. More than that, though, it's a chronicle of the place where some of the most ferocious, titanic battles in history were fought, some sixty years ago, in World War II; of the people who fought them; and, less directly, of those who live there today.

It seems that, since the war, it's become common habit among young people to go exploring in the wall and surrounding war ruins, digging up everything from Mongel jewelry to German schnapps still sealed in the bottle. These young Kievers seem to have a keen sense of history, and of the significance of their surroundings. While a few of their finds are sold, most become part of the private museums that each of them maintains: spontaneous shrines to the foolishness and heroism of a generation, on both sides, stopped in its tracks. The skeletons they find - and they find plenty - they take care to bury or cover with dirt.

Beneath this image, in broken English, Elena writes,

"Soldiers there too, under leaves, bones, skulls, jaw-bones... teeth mostly good of young people. In Soviet army of those who were born in 1922 only 3 out of 100 came home from war, the rest 97 on those hills.

"I believe, for German army statistic must be similar as young people the same everywhere, do not know the value of life, have no fear and for their regimes it was easier to fool young." Link.

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Saturday, January 08, 2005

Bill Gates: A Portentous Sign?

In a world of political equilibrium, Bill Gates' recent equation of free culture advocates and communists would be laughable - and only the laughable would take it seriously. It should be clear, though, that we no longer live in a world of political equilibrium. Rather, we are in a world that requires us, every day, to take the laughable seriously.

Weblogs and forums, most of them, have failed to do this with Gates' statement. Instead they are treating it as a case of "open mouth, insert foot", by someone who ought to be (and probably is) better informed. In this they risk missing its significance.

If the Gates comment wasn't a malapropism, what was it? I think it's fair to suggest that it was an attempt - one of many - to ineluctably link the fate of Microsoft with corporate and state interests. (You're saying they're not linked? I hear you asking. But Microsoft surely hasn't forgotten its antitrust difficulties with the U.S. Justice Department, to say nothing of its current problems in Europe. Nor, for that matter, its desire to win over wholly Hollywood and the recording industry.) If that is the case - and this is more to the point - then it was also an effort to position advocates of open source, creative commons thinkers, and the like, as onerous threats to those interests. My enemies are your enemies. This seems to be Gates' message to his major customers, past, present, future - the governments of the world, the major corporations, and, by extension, the "monied interests".

Given the rightward lurch of the West, Gates' suggestion, if he succeeds in getting it across, could eventually cast increased suspicion on the ideas of so called free culture. Possibly it could lead to Microsoft getting even more of a free hand in its dealings with competitors (and certain European governments). And even a witchhunt of free culture proponents isn't excluded.

I'm not saying, of course, that all this will flow from a single fleeting comment. What I am saying is that this public statement may reveal Microsoft's strategy for dealing with certain of its opponents, one that it pursues privately for the most part.

So, while it may have only been a stupid statement; judging on the basis of who benefits, it might have been something else indeed. Something that needs to be taken seriously.

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Friday, January 07, 2005

Nokia, are you listening? I mean watching?

Well, here it is. Microsoft has announced that it will provide an online video download service for handhelds running Windows software, including Portable Media Center devices, Pocket PCs and Smartphones. From Geekzone via Smartphone Thoughts.

Looks like they're going to offer both free and paid content. The paid content will reportedly be a flat rate of $20.00 a year. According to Geekzone, the content is to include "children's programming, music videos, independent films and comedy shows", as well as sports and news. They're developing, also, something involving MTV channels. Nokia, are you listening? I mean watching?

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Thursday, January 06, 2005

Yet Another Person's Concept of the Apple iPhone

Also via Gizmodo: This 4.1 megapixel iPhone concept from John Pszeniczny at xnodesign.com. Somehow I doubt Steve would go for that keypad. Now, Nokia, that's another matter . . . .

We're seeing more and more of these dreamy iPhones - this one sports a 20 gig hard drive. I wonder if we'll ever see an iPhone actually manufactured? I'm guessing we will. With the increasing convergence of handheld devices - and music capable handsets already on the market, I don't think Apple has any choice. Link.

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Samsung Concept Phones

Some interesting concept phones from Samsung. According to Gizmodo, this is only one of the entire line of Samsung offerings for 2005. Code named Thor, it features a 3 GB hard drive and native MP3 capability. Link.


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Your Friend and Mine, Bill Gates

I read a little comment today from . . . what's his name? . . . oh, yeah, Bill Gates. The comment was made in the same interview where he called open source advocates "Communists". Bill was asked about Apple, and its success with the iPod, and what he said was . . . well, here, I'll let you read it:

Interviewer: What do you think of Apple's success so far? I mean, they clearly have had a hit with the iPod.

Gates: Absolutely. They had a hit with the Apple II, they had a hit with the Macintosh, and they have a hit with the iPod, so this is a company that's had three hits, and that's very impressive. There are a lot of companies that don't have three hits. And in the same way that Macintosh helped get people exposed to the graphical user interface, the iPod is doing a great job getting people to think about digital music.

Now here we have, apparently, a little glimmer of the real Bill Gates. He essentially says "Apple is nothing, their success is meaningless, and we're going to grab the market they're developing for us." At least, that's how I read it. It's also apparent that both the question and Apple's success get under his skin.

The whole thing made me think seriously for the first time about buying a Mac. At least Steve Jobs isn't afraid to have a Weblog.

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Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Bill Gates: Free Culture Adovocates = Commies

The new banner image for my weblog?

According to an entry in BoingBoing, Bill Gates has decided that advocates of free information are "some new, modern day sort of communists." He goes on to say, "Intellectual property is the incentive system for the products of the future."

Interesting sentiments, from a man whose motto seems to have always been

Only buy what you can't steal.


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Tuesday, January 04, 2005

An Open Source Google

"With the hope of returning at least one corner of the web to its non-commercial roots, Google watcher Daniel Brandt, who curates the NameBase archive, has released the source code to a Google scraper. Brandt has been making an ad-free proxy available for two years using Google's little known minimal 'ie' interface. By using this proxy, users bypass both Google's notorious '2038' cookie (that's when it expires) and the text ads."

I knew that Google is blocking the web pages of Chinese dissidents in China. What I didn't know is that they are also blocking the Abu Ghraib torture pictures. Search Google for "Abu Ghraib" and you see this. Yahoo, hides nothing. These pictures are part of a major story. They're searchable by the other major search engines and referenced in all the world's media - it's not like they're some big secret; far from it. So what gives, I wonder? Link.

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Monday, January 03, 2005

Concept Mobile Phones Competition at Slashphone

Now this is really cool. This is the kind of thing we need to keep things fresh in the world of wireless. And I have to hand it to Sony Ericsson for sponsering such a thing. They are fast becoming my favorite mobile phone manufacturer. More later. Link.

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Start-Up Beams TV to Your Hand

Mobile Media

In a recent post, Russell Beattie laments the fact that his new Nokia 6630 doesn't do music well: no larger memory card available for it, doesn't sync well with a PC (much less a dedicated home audio device), no standard audio jack, and no Digital Rights Management. Sad, ain't it?

We are still at the point where you have to brew your own for these devices. Which, of course, is often more work than it's worth, once the novelty wears off. You can make (or convert, rather) your own music and videos for your handset (I've been doing that for a year for my 3650), but who has time? And why should we have to, in 2005?

Imagine, if there were a site you could go to, to download music, videos, TV episodes, movies, audio books, and ebooks, for, say, your 6630. Kind of like a grand version of iTunes for mobile.

Individual files could be cheap, so that they become almost ephemeral - something you download, watch, listen to, or read, and delete. I'm surprised no one's done this yet. Certainly the Sony half of Sony Ericsson is in better position to do it than anyone else.

This would really drive demand for the devices, and would be essentially taking a lesson from the iPod/iTunes pairing that has brought so much cache and success to Apple.

A standard audio jack would be nice, too. Imagine plugging your Grados into your 6630. If only there were something to listen to.

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Sunday, January 02, 2005

Paging Netscape

Enough with the long posts. For now. I have it on good authority that no one reads them. (Though I have to say, at this point in my blogging career - a few days into it - there isn't anyone reading, anyway.)

Just some second thoughts on my last post: I can see how offering up a multitude of designs and colors in basic "consumer" phones makes sense for a company like Nokia. But in my view this is just treading water. It won't mean anything when the Microsoft cigarette boat comes roaring through. And come roaring it will.

Nokia is in the same boat - or, rather, the same water (I'm not sure they really have a boat) - as Google (and, to a lesser extent, Sony) vis a vis Microsoft: extremely vulnerable. Would you be surprized to find, in five or six years, that Nokia phones are running Windows for mobile? I wouldn't. Not because Microsoft makes a better product. Not even because Microsoft has the muscle to dominate with mediocre product. No, it'll be because competing with Microsoft requires extraordinary awareness, long term vision, and real daring. And I just don't see those qualities among any of its rivals (with the possible exception of Google - too soon to say; and Apple, maybe - too late, alas). Paging Netscape. Oops, not around anymore, are they?

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